Chapter 1: The Discovered Test Conduction
The small basement laboratory in Professor Agasa's house was filled with two noises at this otherwise very quiet saturday morning: the clicking of a keyboard and the squeaking of a spinning office chair. Haibara was busy filling out some statistics on her computer and Shinichi was just bored, hence the spinning. And yes, it was Shinichi Kudo who sat in that chair and not Conan Edogawa. They were in the process of testing a new form of antidote and Haibara was currently busy analyzing his blood values. This new antidote could be a big step towards a permanent solution, atleast that's what Haibara told Shinichi, who was still fighting his boredom with chair spinning.
"How long does it take to analyze blood?" Shinichi asked, staring at the ceiling.
"It certainly won't go faster if you ask me that all the time." Haibara sighed. "Besides, after I'm finished you'll just hide in your mansion and read the books you've read a million times already, so I don't understand the rush."
Shinichi refrained from giving an answer to that, not that Haibara waited for one, as she continued to torture the keyboard again. It was true though, Shinichi would just wait off the duration of the antidote reading books, but they'd still be more interesting than just sitting here, even if he could recite most of them by heart. Haibara and him decided to test the new antidote this weekend, as two occurences gave them the perfect opportunity for it: for one, Okiya was out of town gathering information, which opened the mansion as a place to stay. Shinichi could've just hid here in Agasa's basement, so that was just the cherry on top. More importantly, Ran and Sonoko were invited by Sera to go on a hiking trip in Nagano, which meant that Ran was gone for atleast a day. Sera also invited Conan of course, but he declined to work on a school project with Ai (not a complete lie, antidote testing was certainly a project and you could argue it had do to with their school), while also offering to stay at Agasa's place, so Ran wouldn't be worried about leaving him alone with her dad. Ran agreed, a bit reluctantly sure, but she did agree. Sera was disappointed and Sonoko didn't care either way, so he was ready and set to go testing.
This new form of antidote came in pill shape too, but the structure was revamped by Haibara. It now lasted twelve hours and taking another pill shortly before the initial time ended, would extend the period for another twelve hours, preventing a transformation. Atleast that was how it was supposed to work, hence the test they conducted right now, blood samples and all. Haibara would've told him more about what she did for the antidote to now work like that, but they both knew Shinichi wasn't versed well enough in that scientific field to fully appreciate or even understand her efforts, so he just accepted the simple facts. Which didn't mean he accepted waiting here until Haibara was finished with her analysis. He wanted to dive into The Sign of Four already and try to forget the fact that he was in his right form and would do nothing with that. Shinichi knew that hiding was for the better, but it was frustrating nonetheless.
'For science.' Shinichi thought, before sighing again.
"Alright, I'm done. You can go to your books now." Haibara said, followed by a sigh of her own.
"Thank you very much." Shinichi downright jumped from his chair, eager to leave the basement. He already opened the door, when Haibara spoke up again.
"I'm sure I can trust your ability to lay low for the next twelve hours, right?" the little scientist asked.
Shinichi groaned. "We already talked about that Haibara. Besides, the only person I would want to meet is out of town for the day and I don't know her exact location. Trust me, Sherlock Holmes will keep me entertained."
Haibara made an amused snort, which Shinichi took for her form of a goodbye. Just as he wanted to go upstairs, the doorbell rang.
"Who could that be?" he asked.
"How should I know? Just let the Professor answer it."
They already could hear the portly professor making his way to the door. His greeting made Haibara and Shinichi, who stayed close to the basement door to hear what was going on upstairs, freeze in shock.
"Ran-kun! And your two friends. I thought you were going to hike in the mountains today?" Agasa asked.
"Yeah, but Sera had to work out some issues with her hotel booking all of the sudden, so we'll have to take the next train. And since we still have some time until then, I wanted to say goodbye to Conan-kun properly, it was all a bit of a rush this morning." Ran said.
"Oh crap!" Shinichi hissed and had to grip the table next to him, as the possibility of being discovered by Ran made his legs go weak. Unfortunately, he shook the table a bit too hard, which lead to some junk noisily dropping to the floor.
"Idiot! Be quiet or they'll notice us for sure! The Professor will shush them away, so just don't move!" Haibara hissed, a bit louder than she intended, but still unhearable for the people above.
"Ah, I'm sorry Ran-kun, but Conan-kun and Ai-kun are not here right now. They went out to get something for their project. I doubt they'll return before you have to catch your train..." Agasa said, his voice a bit unstable, because he had to make up a cover story on the spot.
"Aww, that's too bad." Ran sounded truly disappointed, making Shinichi flinch.
"Heh, that brat will be fine without being cuddled everytime you go away for a bit. Besides, I bet he went out for a date with that girl instead of working on a school project." Sonoko sneered. "Although I thought he was in for that Ayumi girl."
"Sonoko! Conan-kun wouldn't lie about such a thing. Besides, I already told you my theory that he has an eye on Ai-chan!" Ran said to her friend.
Haibara and Shinichi threw each other an exasperated glare.
"Where do these girls from your high school get their crazy ideas?"
"Don't ask me, you should understand them more than me."
They both rolled their eyes.
"Are you sure they're gone?" Sera asked.
"Of course I'm sure, why do you ask?" The Professor answered, a bit too nervous for Shinichi's taste. Sera wasn't dumb, she would probably notice.
"Oh, really? I swear I just heard something in your basement. If it's not them... it can't be some burglars, right?! We should make sure everything is alright!" Sera exclaimed and Shinichi could hear that she made her way into the house. They heard Agasa protest and Ran object, but Sera was in full detective mode and as such wasn't easily stopped by words. Her steps came closer to the stairs, it wouldn't take her long now to find her way down to Shinichi and Haibara.
"Damnit, Kudo-kun, what do we do now? That detective girl is gonna find us here!" Haibara whispered.
Shinichi's mind raced. He had to get them out of this situation somehow. Then he had an idea.
"You stay quiet and hide Haibara. I'm going to salvage this."
"Listen, I'm going to prevent her from searching the basement, but you have to stay quiet as well. If they find you here without Conan they'll ask questions. So be quiet, alright?" Shinichi hissed. Haibara nodded, disapproval written all over her face. Seems like she didn't like his idea, but Shinichi thought it was his best bet right now. He grabbed some unimportant papers, atleast he assumed they were unimportant because Haibara didn't object him taking them in any form, and went up the stairs before Sera even found the entrance to the basement.
"Professor! I found the documents you were looking for!" He shouted. Judging by the gasps he could hear from upstairs, they recognized his voice. 'Alright Kudo, you can do this. You didn't suffer through your mothers acting lessons for nothing, now it's time to use them!' he thought, as a last prep talk before facing four very surprised faces.
The Professor was horrified. Sonoko was just genuinely surprised. Sera was stunned in confusion. And Ran...Ran had that shocked-longing mixture of a look on her face, similar to how she first stared at him during his second case in the East Ohuko village, but unlike the look she first gave him in London. Thank god she didn't, that kind of look on her face would kill him right now, probably not only mentally.
"Oh, I didn't notice you had guests, Professor." Shinichi said to break the silence. He turned to Sera and acted like this was their first meeting. "You must be Masumi Sera-san. I'm Shinichi Kudo. Pleasure to finally meet you in person." Shinichi extended his right hand. Sera still stared at him like he was an alien, but after another short moment, she regained some of her composure and shook his hand.
"Ahh...yes. Nice to meet you, Kudo-kun. I hope you're just as good in person as you are over the phone." Sera said, her voice still tainted with her initial shock.
Shinichi winked at her. "I'm even better." He went over to Agasa. "Here you go Professor, I believe that's what you were looking for." The Professor was still confused, but took the documents from Shinichi.
"Err, yes...you wouldn't guess how long I didn't find these papers. Thank you very much, Shinichi." The Professor replied and went off to his lab with the documents.
'Oi, oi, Professor, you just leave me alone in the hyena pit with them?!' Shinichi thought, just as Sonoko started to talk to him.
"Hey, what are you doing here, Shinichi-kun?! You're gone for such a long time, leaving Ran alone here and now you're in the Professor's house all of a sudden?!" Okay, maybe shouting would a more fitting description of her words. "Don't tell me...don't tell me you were planning to avoid Ran again like that time with the mad bomber at the Detective Agency!"
Shinichi raised an eyebrow at his classmate. "First of all, that guy wasn't mad, he was traumatized by the death of his sister. Secondly, I was just checking in on my house and wanted to see how Professor Agasa is doing, since I rarely get a chance to do that. And of course I wanted to visit Ran..." Shinichi turned his gaze from Sonoko, hoping she wouldn't notice the faint blush on his face, only to see that Ran was also blushing at his words. "...but I ran into Conan on the way here and he told me you three would be out of town this weekend, so I wasn't in rush to get out of here, if that's what you wanted to know, Sonoko."
Sonoko nudged Ran's side. "Hey, Ran, he's blushing."
"Oh, you're blushing as well! To think you're both still so shy even though you already had your tin anniversary..."
Now Shinichi and Ran blushed even more, but neither denied it. Come to think of it, Ran never denied marriage or girlfriend teases by Sonoko anymore.
"Well, we can't seperate this couple now, can we Sera-san?" Sonoko said with a smug voice, wrapping one arm around Sera's shoulders and grinning teasingly. "I guess it's just the two of us in the Nagano mountains then."
"Sonoko..." Ran said in a low voice.
"What? There is no need for Ran to stay here..." Shinichi quickly said, which he regretted immediately.
"Shinichi..." Ran said in an even lower voice, mixed with a bit of sadness.
"Ah, no...that's not what I meant to say..." He tried to defuse the situation, but he couldn't quite find the right words. Ran looked to the ground.
"Well, why don't we do it the other way around?" Sera asked, making everyone look at her. "Instead of staying here, why doesn't Kudo-kun just come with us?"
"Ehh?!" Shinichi and Ran both exclaimed. "Is this alright? I really don't want to butt in somewhere where I'm not wanted..." Shinichi attempted to escape her invitation, but it wouldn't be so easy for him.
"It's not a problem at all!" Sera chirped. "Originally I wanted Conan-kun to come with us, but he couldn't because of his school stuff. So it's no problem if you come with us instead."
"Ah, I'm still not sure..." Shinichi muttered.
"You're not bailing out this time, Shinichi-kun! We won't let you off the hook!" Sonoko exclaimed, before turning to Sera, whom she was still arm in arm with, again. "Right, Sera-san?" Sera nodded and the two threw their cheeky smiles at Shinichi. Meanwhile, Ran still observed the ground and the look on her face told Shinichi they were about to hit the worst case scenario. Ran was about to cry. His eyes widened at this realization, with her words from London coming back to his mind.
"Don't you get it...? You're a detective, aren't you? If you call yourself a detective, then why don't you try to deduce what's in my heart?! Idiot!"
He also saw her pained, crying face before him. No. No, no,no! He had to prevent this. Making her cry again while they were still seperated because of Conan was something he wouldn't forgive himself. Not again.
Shinichi put his hands in his pockets, sighed and desperately tried not to look like someone who was pressured into a hiking trip by two high school girls. Well, technically three high school girls, but Ran didn't play an active role in that, so she didn't count. "Well, I suppose then there's no reason for me not come." He said. As soon as he did, Ran looked at him, her sadness quickly replaces by a shy joy and a smile. Shinichi smiled back at her, while ignoring the teasing grins of the other two girls. "Alright, we should go over to my house so I can pack some stuff for the trip. We still have enough time before our train leaves, right?"
Sera affirmed that they did. Shinichi shouted a goodbye to the Professor and, unknown to the girls, Haibara and went over to his mansion with the three girls. Thank god they decided to conduct the test while Okiya was gone, otherwise he'd have some uncomfortable explainations to give. After closing the door behind them, Shinichi quickly took off his shoes and put on the house slippers. "No need for you to take off your shoes, I'll be fast, so just wait here for a minute." Shinichi explained, while already climbing the stairs to his room.
Sonoko chuckled. "You heard that Sera-san? No snooping around like the last time you were here."
Shinichi halted on the stairs and raised an eyebrow at the female detective. "You were snooping around here?"
"Ahaha, no, no. I just looked through some drawers in the kitchen while waiting for Conan-kun." Sera tried to excuse herself, clearly uncomfortable with Sonoko bluntly telling him about her actions. "You know, kind of a detective force of habit, you know?"
Shinichi narrowed his eyes. "I know, but I usually only have that at a crime scene. Anyway, as I said I'll be quick, so don't bother." He continued his way up the stairs. Shinichi could hear them talk when they thought he was out of hearing range.
"Sonoko-chan! Why did have to tell him that, what will Kudo-kun think of me now?" Sera asked her friend, a big note of embarassment in her voice. Shinichi entered his room, not interested in Sonoko's response.
He made sure they didn't follow him upstairs, took out his smartphone and called Haibara. She picked up immediately. "Salvage this, huh?!"
Shinichi groaned. "Did you have a better idea at that moment?"
"Not really. What're you going to do now?"
"What can I do? I'll just have to go on this trip with them and leave them sometime before the antidote runs out. I just hope I can manage to do that without hurting Ran too much..."
Now Haibara groaned in frustration. "Nice one, Kudo-kun, as if London wasn't enough already." Shinichi wanted to object, but Haibara didn't give him any time for that. "Listen, I'm getting sick of you do these things to her, so here's my one in a lifetime offer: think of an excuse to come over here for a quick moment after you're done in the mansion and I'll give you some of the twelve hours pills. So you can do this trip properly. And one of the older antidote prototypes that last for 24 hours, in case the new prototype doesn't work as intended. How does that sound to you?"
Shinichi was speechless at her offer for a second. "You're a genius, Haibara! What did I do to deserve this?"
"As I said, nothing." The little scientist responded coldly. "But atleast we can still conduct the test this way and you won't raise any suspicions with your friends when you leave. Atleast the Nagano mountains are pretty unpopulated, so you won't run into any press or something there. But you still need to be careful!"
Shinichi nodded, but then he remembered that she couldn't see that. "Yeah, got it. I'll have to pack now, see you in a few." He hung up and started to prepare his backpack for the trip, putting in everything he needed. Additionally, he hid the Conan clothes he left here when he got himself ready for the test under his real clothes, just in case something unexpected happened. He wouldn't be able to explain a Conan in Shinichi's clothes, much less a Conan without any clothes. After that, Shinichi had an idea for a form of disguise he used before, but couldn't remember where he put them in his big closet. But someone in the house probably knew.
He went over to the door and shouted down to the girls. "Hey Ran, where did I put my basecaps?"
"Second drawer from left." came the immediate answer from her.
"Thanks!" Shinichi replied. Downstairs he could hear Ran talking to Sera and Sonoko again.
"Ehhehe, don't look at me like that. I helped him tidy up once or twice and just happened to remember this."
Shinichi opened said drawer and sure enough, there were all of his soccer basecaps he usually just wore in a stadium, but for their way to the trainstation and the train to the Nagano mountains itself, they would make for a discreet form of disguise. Simple things like glasses and hats were still the best form of disguise there was, atleast for people who couldn't produce masks like his mother or Vermouth could. He chose a Tokyo Spirits cap, grabbed his backpack and went back downstairs.
"Found something interesting, Sera-san?" Shinichi couldn't resist shooting Sera a little stinger. The tomboyish girl made some defensives gestures and gave him a nervous smile. While they back to the street, Shinichi couldn't help but notice that Sera shot Sonoko more than one angry glare.
With the excuse that he forgot his phone in Agasa's he quickly ran to the door of his neighbor, giving the girls no chance to follow him. The door opened before he could ring the doorbell; it seemed like Haibara and the Professor watched the street, eagerly awaiting his return. Inside, Haibara handed him a small case.
"Here you go, three twelve hours pills and one 24 hour pill. They're shaped differently enough so you won't mistake them."
"Thanks Haibara! I owe you one!"
"Don't mention it..." Haibara almost whispered. Did she just blush a little? Shinichi chalked it up to his imagination and went back outside to his classmates. He waved his phone around, signaling that they were now good to go to the trainstation. Shinichi noticed that they completely forgot that they came to the Professor's house with the intention of seeing Conan off, but his return apparently overshadowed that. Plus, the excuse Agasa gave them was pretty solid, so atleast he wouldn't have to worry about that.
Usually, when the four of them were en route somewhere, the three girls chatted like there was no tomorrow, while he made some childish comments here and there. But unfortunately, he wasn't a grade schooler right now. Thus, there was just silence during their walk. Ran and Shinichi didn't really know what to say to each other, and being under the scrutiny of Sera and Sonoko didn't make it any easier.
Finally, Sonoko had the mercy to break the silence.
"So, Shinichi-kun, what did happen in London?"
Scrap the mercy part; suddenly, Shinichi missed the silence.
"Ah ha ha, you know, a case, a tennis tournament and lots of Sherlock Holmes stuff." Shinichi tried to shut her down. To no avail however.
"Really? A little bird told me something happened under the eye of Big Ben. I wonder what that was?" Sonoko waggled her eyebrows at him.
'Sneaky witch! Ran told her exactly what happened in London, but now she's pretending she doesn't know any details.' Shinichi thought.
"I'm sorry, I can't quite follow...what about London? A case? Big Ben? I don't understand." Sera said, gathering everyone's attention.
"Oh, that's right, the whole thing happened before you transferred here, Sera-san." Sonoko said. "I wasn't there, but the gist of it is this that Ran went to London and ran into Shinichi there, forcing a love confession out of him."
Sera blinked a few times trying to compute this new information. "Love...confession..."
Shinichi threw Sonoko a glare. "I thought you didn't know what happened under Big Ben? So, Ran did tell you and you just wanted to get some additional details."
Sonoko shrugged. "Well, I thought maybe your version was a bit less...weird."
That last adjective made Shinichi wince. "Weird, huh..." He clenched one fist in his pocket. "Well, if it's so weird, we can stop talking about it." He hissed, angered. That backhand comment put him off for some reason.
"Shinichi-kun, I didn't mea-"
"Forget it, Sonoko. It's fine."
The rest of their way was spent in silence again; Sera looked like she wanted to get more details about what this whole London thing was about, but it seemed like she knew it wasn't the best time to ask, much to Shinichi's delight. He had already calmed down when they arrived at the trainstation. They would have to wait a bit longer. Shinichi and Ran sat down on a bench, while Sonoko went off to check the train schedules and practically dragged Sera with her, apparently wanting to give Ran some time alone with Shinichi. After a few moments of more silence, Shinichi spoke up.
"Does it still look weird?"
Ran turned around to look directly at him. "Huh?"
"Me, wearing a cap. During that highway case you said I looked weird with Heiji's cap on." He explained. "You kept stealing glances at me while we walked here and you were doing it again just now. I...I thought it was because you were put off by the cap again."
Ran blushed, although it really shouldn't have surprised her that Shinichi caught her looks. "No, that's...that's not why I kept looking at you..."
Shinichi sighed. "Well, I'm glad. Atleast now that I don't look weird anymore, I can concentrate on not saying weird stuff anymore."
"What?" Ran wondered, but then caught on to what he was referring to. "Shinichi, I'm sure Sonoko didn't want to..." Didn't want to what? Ran had to think about how she wanted to end that sentence. Didn't want to hurt his feelings. She didn't say it out loud, because in Ran's mind, Shinichi wouldn't be affected in that way by Sonoko calling his confession weird. Or would he? When it came to Shinichi's true feelings, Ran simply hadn't enough experience to find a satifying answer to that question.
Meanwhile, Shinichi broke the uncomfortable silence that was created by Ran not finishing her sentence. "You know, Sonoko is probably right. My words in London were weird, but getting them called that is stinging me. Because these words came from my heart, not from my brain; there wasn't much thinking behind the structure or the exact words or anything, but in that moment they just felt right to say." He sighed and stared at his feet. "Maybe I'm really as hopeless in that regard as everyone says..."
Ran clenched her fists. "I liked your words!"
Shinichi turned his gaze to her again.
"I liked your words." She repeated, in a more softer tone. "They weren't like the words you'd read in a cheap romance novel or maybe not even in a higher quality one. Your words were special. And they meant a lot to me, Shinichi, because they were just so completely you. Out of a hundred confessions, I'd bet I wouldn't find any that would be more like you, the detective geek and best friend that I...I...lo-"
Suddenly, the train arrived at the station, causing a lot of noise and interrupting what Ran was going to say.
"Oh good, the train is here! Come on, you two, time to leave." Sonoko screamed, to be hearable over the train coming to a halt.
Shinichi was still staring at Ran, who was just staring back. 'What did she want say? Damn it, why couldn't the train arrive a few seconds later?'
And then Ran interrupted his thoughts, through quickly closing the distance between them and pressed her cheek against his. Thus, she whispered her next words directly into his ear, just hearable for the two them.
"...that I love."
And that's it for the original exposition, next chapter we'll get to places that you could recognize from the manga, thus furfilling the "Alternative" in the title.
I hope I didn't make this too sappy or Shinichi too out of character. But it was necessary to have Ran's reply, because in my mind, the next in person meeting of Shinichi and Ran will have to have her reply or else there would just be a gigantic elephant in room, that would make writing it a bit...awkward. Don't worry, this won't be overly romantic all of a sudden, the case they'll get to will still be about the dangerous Red Woman.
Chapter 3: The Mansion in the Woods
The arriving train came to a stop, so nobody had to scream anymore to be heard. Shinichi, however, didn't know what to say at all. "Ran..." Her name escaped his lips after a short while. Ran smiled and him and got up from the bench, offering her hand to him.
"Come on, we don't want to miss that train, right?" Ran said, cheerfully. Now Shinichi also smiled, took her hand and stood up. They walked to the train, Sera and Sonoko following behind them. Shinichi could feel Sonoko's burning stare, lusting for information, in his back, but he chose to ignore it for now.
They sat down in a four person seating area, Shinichi besides Ran and the two other girls on the opposite seats. As expected, Sonoko's had a teasing look on her face because of the hand holding and some curiosity, probably because she wanted to know what Ran whispered in his ear. On the other hand, Sera had an undefinable look on her face, if Shinichi had to guess, she expressed...disapproval?
"So, Ran, what did you discuss with Shinichi-kun?" Sonoko inquired as the train left the station. "It looked very romantic, you two on a bench, cheek to cheek with an arriving train behind you..."
Shinichi, still watching Sera's face, trying to determine her emotions, noticed that her face twitched when Sonoko described the situation. Why was she behaving like that?
"Hey, Sera-san, you want to know too, right?" Sonoko nudged the boyish girl, who now looked like her normal self again.
"Yeah, I'd love to hear that from you. Kudo-kun."
Shinichi nervously scratched his cheek. "Ah, well, you see..."
"I told him that I got all the school papers he wanted to catch up on." Ran suddenly said, turning the attention away from the stuttering detective.
Sera and Sonoko stared at her in surprise. "School...papers...?"
Shinichi was just as surprised as they were.
"Yeah, he asked me to collect some for him while during his absense." Ran added.
Disbelievingly, Sonoko pressed for more information. "Really, now, huh? You two talked about...that? Nothing else?"
"It is important, Sonoko! After all, I don't want to fail the school year." Shinichi said, following up on Ran's excuse for the other two girls.
"It can't believe you two!" Sonoko threw up her arms in an overly dramatic fashion. "Such a great moment wasted on talks about school. Unbelievable!"
Shinichi raised an eyebrow at his classmate. 'Oi, oi, if it is so unbelievable, then why did you fall for it?!' He sarcastically thought to himself. He looked over to Ran, who gave him a smile and he gently squeezed her hand to show her his appreciation for not letting Sonoko in on their little talk. For now. He was sure Ran would eventually tell her friend, but if they didn't want to be teased during the whole trip, deceiving Sonoko for a little while seemed necessary.
The rest of the two hour train ride was spend on idle chit chat, like informing Shinichi about what's been happening at school lately. Somehow, he even enjoyed that; he never admitted it outright, but sometimes he felt sad about all the things he was missing of his usual daily life, so being himself and having a normal conversation about normal everyday stuff with Ran and Sonoko was actually pretty refreshing for him. Sera also participated in the conversations, but held herself back many times and checked her phone for texts from time to time.
Another 30 minutes after they arrived at the Nagano trainstation, they were already deep inside the forest. The wind gently brushed through the trees and the summer sun managed to find its way through the masses of leaves. Sera and Sonoko were leading the group, talking about Makoto apparently, while Shinichi and Ran followed closely behind them, currently in silence.
"Hey, Shinichi." Ran started a conversation again.
"Now that you've met Sera-san in person..." Ran hesitated for a moment. "...do you feel like you've met her before?"
Shinichi's eyes widened. 'Ran remembers her as well?'
"Now that you mention it, yeah. I think I remember her from somewhere...ah, but I can't quite pinpoint it. Can you?"
Ran shook her head. "No, me neither. The only thing that comes to my mind is that I hear the rippling of waves whenever she runs off. So, maybe I met her at a beach at some point?"
"Hm, could be." Shinichi raised one hand to his chin, his trademark thinking gesture. "Have you tried to talk to her about that?"
"Yes, once. But we were interrupted before I could finish asking my question and there hasn't been a good opportunity to ask her since."
'Hm, the last time I asked her as Conan if we've met before, Sera refused to answer me. And Ran remembers her from somewhere as well. Something with waves. What is the deal with that girl?'
"Aww, this forest is so beautiful!" Shinichi was taken out of his thoughts by this loud exclaimation of Sonoko. "Really, a nice walk in a forest is just the best!" Ran and Shinichi closed the distance between them and the other two girls.
"Thank you again for inviting us to this, Sera-san." Ran added.
"And I'm really happy that you guys came with me!" Sera replied cheerfully.
"But I wouldn't have guessed you were type to go on a hiking trip, Sera-san." Shinichi chimed in.
"Ah well, truth to be told, there is also a case I'm taking care of in this area." Sera replied sheepishly.
The rest of the group was expectably surprised. "A case?! Something with criminals?!" Sonoko and Ran shouted in unison.
Shinichi was only mildly surprised. 'I knew it! After all, she's still a detective...'
"Actually, it was my brother who was supposed to take care of this case. An old friend of his from high school asked him to uncover the secret of the rentable mansion that we're going to right now. My brother doesn't have time for it at the moment, so it's up to me, high school detective that I am, to solve this mystery!" Sera explained.
"So your brother is also a detective?" Ran inquired.
Sera continued. "No, but in high school he always knew the right solution to everyone's problems."
"But I thought your brother died?"
"My oldest brother did! I still have a second, older brother and he's got tasked with this. We're three siblings, I'm the youngest. But all three of us have different surnames."
Shinichi eyed Sera suspiciously. 'Her second oldest brother, huh. She told me at the bowling alley that he looks more like her father and less like Sera and her dead, oldest brother. She also said he was very busy, which seems to be true, if he can't do his old classmates a favor, but still sends his sister to help them out. Interesting...'
"How come you all have different surnames?" Shinichi asked Sera directly.
"Well, for example, my father died." Sera answered casually. "So I'm going by my mothers maiden name, Sera, right now. My brother also went by the name of Sera until he graduated from high school."
"So you actually had a different name before?" Shinichi hoped he was hiding his curiosity well enough, so she wouldn't get suspicious about his questions.
Sera and Shinichi spun around to Sonoko, surprise on both of their faces; but both failed to notice the others reaction.
"A person in red..." Sonoko continued. "There was a red person behind that tree just a second ago!"
'Oh, she meant Akai as in the colour red.' Shinichi thought.
"Yeah." Ran added. "Somebody in a red raincoat and red boots. A woman with long hair."
'A red raincoat? In Deadly Premonition we'd be in deep trouble by now.' Shinichi thought, in one of the few times where a video game came to his mind before a novel. Thinking about what Ran and Sonoko just saw and about Sera's name and brother, he didn't pay too much attention to his footing.
"Huh...?" He exclaimed as he stepped onto a small slope and started to fall. Shinichi noticed the ground and dark waters coming closer to him - although it was more like he was falling closer to them - before his arm was suddenly grabbed by Ran, stopping his fall and allowing him to put down his feet down onto the slope without sliding down. Releasing a breath he didn't know he held, Shinichi stepped on the safe path again.
"Are you alright, Shinichi?" Ran asked.
Shinichi brushed over his clothes a few times. "Yeah, I'm fine. But I think that water down there is acutally a swamp, so I'm glad you didn't let me fall into that."
He then noticed that Ran was still holding his arm; he subtly squeezed her hand that was still clinging to his arm, making Ran blush at the realization of her own actions and hastily pulling her hand away. Shinichi gave her warm smile in response. Luckily, the two other girls didn't notice their small, wordless exchange.
"Yeah, we have to be careful where we're going." Sera explained. "There is said to be a bottomless swamp in this forest. I didn't realize we were already so close to it though."
"Wahh, really?!" Sonoko shouted, panickly looking down all over the ground. While the group calmed down and prepared to move along, they failed to notice the woman in red observing them from behind a tree.
After a short while, they reached their destination: a building that looked like a log cabin, but in much bigger mansion form. It looked very well built and seemed to be in a good shape and with the location here in the quiet, beautiful Nagano mountains, with a large forest surrounding it, it must've been a very good place to spend your vacation in.
The four of them stood before the mansion, admiring the sight of it. "Wow, what a beautiful holiday villa!" Ran cheerfully exclaimed, but then she frowned when her eyes fell upon the front door. "But why is the door completely painted red?"
Sonoko nodded. "Yeah, it's looking kind of scary..."
Scary wasn't the first thing that came to Shinichi's mind, but it was still kind of unsettling.
'Another mansion with something red...I hope this one doesn't light up in flames if were staying here...' He thought.
The sound of footsteps disrupted his thoughts and turned everyone's attention to a person approaching them from behind. It was a woman, not older than 30 if Shinichi had to guess, who was wearing a hoodie and a striped shirt, and carried a large bag.
"Oh, you must be Sera's little sister and her friends, right?" The woman said.
Ran nodded. "Yeah, we are."
The woman smiled and started to introduce herself. "My name is Tamami Minegishi. Thank you for coming. Erhm..." Tamami looked around the group before her. Apparently her old high school friend didn't send her a picture or description of his little sister. Sera noticed the woman's little problem and introduced the group.
"I'm Masumi Sera." She said, pointing to herself. Sera then gestured over to her companions. "And those two are my classmates, Sonoko Suzuki-kun and Ran Mouri-kun."
The two girls briefly greeted the woman before Sera continued the introduction.
"And this is Shinichi Kudo-kun, an even better detective than I am!" Sera said with a cheerful grin.
Tamami turned her gaze to Shinchi. "Oh really?"
Shinichi lifted his hands for a de-emphasizing gesture. "I'm not that big of a deal."
That earned him confused glares from Sonoko and Ran. His sudden humbleness seemed to surprise them.
The woman came a bit closer to him. "Hm, I could swear that I have seen your face before."
"Ah, you must mistake for the famous Kendo champion Okita from Kyoto." Shinichi played down the woman's recognition. "That happens quite often, actually." He followed up his lie with a smile. Tamami seemed to buy it, atleast she didn't question it any further. Just as Sonoko wanted to say something, Tamami proceeded to talk to Sera about the case again.
"So, anyway, I took photos of the strange incidents with my camera...uhm..." She looked over her shoulders. "...Sumika wanted to print them and take them with her...but she isn-..." Tamami stopped looking around, her eyes focussing in one direction. "Ah, there she is! Sumika! You have the photos with you?"
Shinichi followed Tamami's gaze. He spotted another woman approaching them, same age as Tamami, long brownish-blonde hair, tied together into two casual pigtails. "Yeah." She replied. The woman, Sumika, as Tamami called her, made her way over to them and handed Sera an envelope. "Good luck!" She simply said and went straight past the group, entering the mansion through the red door.
Tamami flashed them a sheepish smile. "Her name is Sumika Kawana, she's part of our group too." A nervous chuckle. "Don't take her behaviour personally, Sumika isn't that good with strangers."
The loud voice of a man gained the attention of the group. "Oh! Sera's little sister, the high school detective, really came all the way out here!" They all turned around to the voice, to see two men approaching the mansion.
'Man, this reclusive forest sees more commotion than the Detective Agency!' Shinchi thought with half-moon eyes.
Tamami seemed to recognize the two men. The one who spoke to them was a tall, dark-skinned man, with black, spiky coiffed hair under a white headband and a three day stubble beard. The other man was a bit smaller and a bit more chubby, with short, brown hair and a few freckles on his face.
"Jinsuke! Masaie! Did you come here together?" Tamami asked the two men.
"N-no, we just ran into each other in forest by chance!" The chubby guy stuttered, a bit uncomfortable for some reason.
The other man let out a small laugh. "Heh, he told me he got stuck in the swamp. He was busy changing clothes when I met him."
And there was probably the reason, why the chubby guy felt uncomfortable.
"This is Masaie Hakuya..." Tamami said and pointed to the small, chubby man, who raised one hand to greet the four teenagers staring at him. "...and this is Jinsuke Ninda." She continued, pointing to the dark-skinned man.
Said Jinsuke began to speak again. "It's a real shame. I was really looking forward to see some high school girls out here, but then they both bring their boyfriends along."
Tamami looked at her friend in confusion. "Huh?"
"Well, we heard that Sera's sister would take some of her friends from high school with her..." Masaie now said.
Suddenly, Sera and Shinichi realized what they were talking about. Sera started to get angry, while Shinichi couldn't hold in his laughter and just started to lose it.
"RIGHT! AND I AM SERA'S SISTER MASUMI, DAMNIT!" The tomboyish girl shouted at the men, who stared back at her with fear and confusion.
"You're a girl?!"
Now Ran and Sonoko understood why Shinichi was laughing; Ran tried to hold back her laughter - she wasn't doing a very good job at it though -, while Sonoko also started to outright lose it. Sera folded her arms in front of her chest. "Really funny, guys..." She muttered.
Shinchi felt wonderful; Sera's gender had given them quite a few funny situations before, but being able to have a long, genuine laugh as himself with his friends was just a blast. He realized something that came with not truly being himself for such a long time already; it gave him a whole new appreciation for things he took for granted before. Even a simple thing like chatting about school in the train or having a good laugh here. True, he laughed with Ran as Conan too sometimes, but it just wasn't the same.
The three of them calmed down and Tamami introduced the teenagers to the two men. Thankfully, these two didn't recognize his name or his face, so he didn't have to lie about being mistaken for Okita again.
"But I can reassure you that you were correct about me." Shinichi said, pointing a finger at himself with a smile. "I really am a high school boy!"
Jinsuke and Masaie mumbled something under their breath; quiet enough to make it impossible for the others to hear.
"Hey, Shinichi-kun, don't forget the other thing they were right about!" Sonoko exclaimed, drawing the attention to her. She then grabbed one arm of Shinichi and one arm of Ran and proceed to press their palms flat together. "You really were brought along by your girlfriend!"
If Shinichi needed a reminder that Sonoko was really good at pushing the right buttons when it came to relationships - he didn't, for the record -, then this was it; both Shinichi and Ran started to blush furiously, Ran a bit more than Shinichi.
Sonoko flashed them a Cheshire cat grin, Sera had an unreadable expression on her face, while the adults were still a bit confused, but Shinichi could already see amusement making its way to their faces; if he didn't want to get back the laughter, Shinichi needed a way to get out this situation right now.
'Alright, Kudo, now or never!' He thought to himself, before he winked at Ran. This brought her out of her stunning embarassment and made her wonder what he was about to do.
"Yeah, you're right Sonoko, how could I forget about that?" He said as smooth as he possibly could and entwined his fingers with Ran's - they were now effectively holding hands -, shook off Sonoko's hands from their arms and lowered their hands back to thigh level.
"Shinichi..." Ran whispered, still considerably blushing and Shinichi was sure his face wasn't looking much better, but atleast he now had the momentum of the conversation again, so he decided to deflect the attention from their relationship back to the adults.
"What are you carrying on your back?" Shinichi asked Jinsuke.
It worked; the man he addressed looked over his shoulder. "Oh, this? It's a baseball bat." He took the bat out the small bag. "I take it with me every year, for self-defense purposes."
Sonoko and Ran were shocked by his words.
"S-self-defense?" Ran asked with a slightly shaky voice.
"Against what? Are there wild bears living in this forest?" Sonoko hastily added.
Jinsuke scratched the back of his head. "Ah, no, nothing like that..."
Meanwhile, Sera took the bat in her hands to examine it; she gave it a sceptical look. "This bat's pretty thin. Can you even hit a ball with that?"
Jinsuke turned back to her. "Like I said, it's for self-defense purposes, not for actual baseball games."
Tamami clapped her hands together. "Alright, why don't we all go inside and have some lunch? I'll make you my tasty special menu and then we can talk about the reason why we asked Sera for help. Sounds good?" Everyone agreed; Jinsuke and Masaie assured the teenagers that Tamami made truly excellent food. They all set themselves in motion.
Suddenly, Shinichi felt something cold behind his back; he sharply spinned around, but he didn't see anything suspicious. Shinichi narrowed his eyes, gazing along the treeline; he could've sworn there was somebody out there watching him.
Ran calling out his name brought his attention back to the group. He realized that she also came to a halt with him, because he was still holding her hand; upon realization of that he let go of her.
"No, it's nothing...I just felt like somebody was watching me." He said.
Jinsuke waved him off. "It's the density of the trees, makes people paranoid sooner than they can say 'Hallucination'."
Shinichi nodded, closing down that subject. Everybody went into the mansion; Shinichi remained outside for a little while longer and looked back to the treeline.
'No, that wasn't it. I'm sure somebody was there. My feeling about this kind of thing hasn't been wrong.' Shinichi thought. He turned around and followed the other ones inside. While walking, he threw a last glance over his shoulder, but he didn't spot anyone.
Out of his sight, behind a tree, a long haired woman looked at the entrance of the mansion again. The woman breathed heavily as she cracked a smile. The wind blew through her hair and the numerous trees, but it wasn't gentle anymore.
A storm was coming.
The smell of food filled up the whole dining room of the mansion. Tamami served everyone burgers, with a fried egg, corn and some other vegetables. And she didn't exaggerate when she said that her special menu was tasty, because it really was. It even rivaled the food Ran cooked, although Shinichi kept that thought to himself. Using forks and knives wasn't too difficult for the teenagers, since they all had a vast amount of experience with them, probably more than other people of their age.
"So..." Ran said, after swallowing a good chunk of meat. "What kind of reunion is this?"
"The outdoor club of our school." Sumika said briefly before continuing to eat.
"We always went out together, for hiking and camping trips." Masaie explained. He took a sip of his drink. "Mostly during the holidays, since school obviously kept us busy outside of them."
Tamami smiled, fondly remembering those days. "We had a lot of fun during these trips. Despite that, our club only had five members, but we didn't let us get demotivated by that."
"Five members?" Ran asked. "So, that woman clad in red we saw earlier in the forest is the fifth member?"
If fear and tension had a smell to them, it would've completely suppressed the smell of the food right about now. The perceived temperature of the room dropped a few degrees and all of adults abruptly stopped their movements; breaths halted, eyes widened and muscles tensed up. It seemed like Ran stroke a very upsetting chord.
Shinichi observed their reactions carefully, as did Sera. Ran was stunned by the strange reaction of the adults to her question.
"W-where..." Tamami stuttered, completely breathless. She hastily sucked in enough air to shout. "WHERE DID YOU SEE HER?"
Poor Ran looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "Out in the forest...together with Sonoko..." She muttered, intimidated by the sudden outburst of the woman.
"And did she really wear red clothes?" Sumika pressed the subject. Her face grimaced scarily.
"Yes..." Ran said, swallowing hard. She regained some of her composure. "We saw a woman with long hair, dressed in red from head to toe. She wore a red raincoat with matching red boots."
Masaie nervously bit his lip and tried to fight the sudden outburst of sweat that was running down his face with a handkerchief.
Jinsuke stared into the air with his mouth open, swallowing down an imaginary lump. "M-My goodness...don't tell me..."
Suddenly, Masaie slammed down his hands on the table and jolted up. "IT CAN'T BE! SATOKO CAN'T STILL BE ALIVE! IT'S NOT POSSIBLE!" He screamed, slumping visibly after he pushed out these words. His breathing was heavy and irregular and his face was more white than freshly washed sheets. His sweating also intensified.
Jinsuke propped on arm on the table, his voice shaky and pretty low, as if he wanted to make up for how loud Masaie had been. "I rather thought about that murderer from 15 years ago..."
Shinichi and Sera raised their eyebrows. "Could you elaborate on that?" They both asked, in perfect union. Threwing each other a glance, they noticed the detective stare in the others eyes. Neither could stop a faint grin from coming to their faces.
The adults agreed to tell them the story, but Tamami decided to make all of them a tea first, to get everyone to calm down and to try to get the situation back to a normal atmosphere. Once everybody was provided with a cup of tea, Tamami began to tell the story.
"It all happened 15 years ago. In a holiday villa like this, not too far from here." The four teenagers focussed her with their eyes, eager to hear her tale. "An employee of some big company was murdered there. He went there with his lover, but his wife surprised him, carrying a large kitchen knife with her. A policeman then heard noises and when he came running to the room it originated from, he found himself standing in a sea of blood. The wife sat on her husband, stabbing him over and over again with the knife. She wore a white raincoat, but it turned completely red from all the blood. Thus, she was given the nickname 'Woman in Red'."
Sonoko and Ran paled, while Shinichi and Sera gave Tamami a continuously stern stare.
"And was this 'Woman in Red' caught?" Ran asked with a shaky voice.
Sumika sighed. "No. She attacked she officer with her knife and escaped into the woods." Her voice remained very cold. "Officially, she's still a wanted criminal on the run. But I doubt that the police are still actively investigating this case after all this time."
"Three years later, in the summer holidays, we came to this holiday villa, for the first time." Jinsuke continued. "Our friend Satoko, the one Masaie mentioned, said that she saw the woman, so we all went on to look for her in the forest." He shook his head. "In retrospective, it was pretty dumb idea. But we were young and adventerous. Anyway, Satoko got lost in the forest during our little search. Since it was already dusk, we called the police, who kept searching for her everywhere in the woods."
Sumika folded her hands under her chin. "We found her a week later." The blonde woman took a deep breath to deal with the memory. "But only her corpse! She must've fallen into the swamp and drowned in it. The corpse itself was only found because Satoko's shoes were discovered, laying on the ground nearby the swamp. They weren't the only thing though: the knife from the Red Woman murder case was also found alongside her shoes. This could only mean one thing:..."
Sumika closed her eyes and took another deep breath, her eyes and voice now showing more of the panic she managed to keep locked away inside of her so far. "...it is quite possible that Satoko...was chased by the 'Woman in Red', who hid inside the forest for all these years, and fell into swamp trying to escape her, ultimately resulting in her death."
Sumika stopped talking. It seemed like she didn't have anything to add to that topic anymore, considering that she now carefully composed herself again, pushing back the memories of her friend's death into a distant part of her subconscious. The silence lay heavy over the room, with everybody processing the tale of the 'Woman in Red', whether they just learned of it or lived with it for the past 12 years.
Sonoko was the first to speak again. "And now you want Sera-san to find the 'Woman in Red'?!" She said, showing sign of anger and worry in her voice.
"No." Tamami audibly cleared her throat. "If we learned one thing from this whole thing, then it is the fact that the search for that woman is a matter for the police, something that we shouldn't interfere with." She took another sip from her tea, as her voice was still a bit husky. "No, we need her for a different matter. You see, we go here every year, on the day Satoko's body was found in the swamp, even after we finished high school. But there have been some strange incidents in the past two years."
"What kind of incidents?" Shinichi asked.
"Once a window got smashed and there were lots of apples on the floor. Another time we couldn't any hot water. When we checked the boiler, there were many red petals clogging it. And finally, the front got splashed with red paint." Tamami sighed and looked around the room. "The owner decided to paint the entire door red, so it didn't look like vandalism anymore."
Sera nodded. "So you want me to find the one who's responsible for these incidents."
"Exactly." Jinsuke said. "All of these strange occurences, including the woman you saw in the forest today, could all just be some dumb pranks by an idiot who thinks he especially funny. Maybe someone who lives nearby. Anyway, we want to catch this prankster, so we asked our friend Sera to help us out, but it seems he's pretty busy at the moment. Thankfully, he was kind enough to relate our need for help to you."
'Those pranks are probably really just someone's idea of being funny.' Shinichi thought. 'But the woman Sonoko and Ran saw in the forest today, would someone go that far? It would explain why I felt someone's stare in my back earlier, but is that really the prankster too or could it be the culprit from 15 years ago? No matter what, we should be careful.'
"Alright!" Sera shouted from the door. Shinichi was so in thoughts, that he didn't noticed she got up and went back to the entrance. "I'm going to take a look around the forest, maybe I find some clues." She announced while putting on her shoes.
Shinichi also stood up. "Sera-san, wait! We shouldn't just go deep into the forest..." He said, but the tomboyish girl either didn't hear him or ignored him, as she ran out of the mansion. "...alone..." Shinichi finished.
'Ugh, this impatient girl!' He thought, while putting on his own shoes.
"Shinichi, what are you doing?" Ran asked.
"I'm going after her. I don't want her to just wander around the forest alone, who knows what might happen if she doesn't stay on a straight path." He said, now standing in the door with his shoes on.
"But there are still some chores here we could use your help on!" Ran said with a scolding voice.
"Uhm..." Shinichi made a decision. "...see you later!" He finished and dashed out the door.
He had to run for a little while, but he managed to catch up to Sera eventually. The girl turned around to him. "Oh, you followed me?" She said, but there was no surprise in her voice.
Shinichi was still a bit breathless from the sprinting he'd just done. "Yeah...you know, after the story we just heard I thought...maybe snooping around this forest alone might be a bad idea."
"Oh, come on, Tamami-san and Sumika-san were fine going through here on their own!"
"Yeah, but they didn't wander off searching for clues and potentially a murderer."
Sera faked being shocked. "A murderer?! But I'm just looking for a prankster."
Shinichi was not in the mood for sarcasm. "Can it. You can't tell me the thought of the woman Sonoko and Ran saw being the real 'Woman in Red' didn't occur to you."
"Alright, you got me." She raised her hands and chuckled. "Still, no need to worry. That Satoko girl may have had to run away from that 'Woman in Red', but I can just defend myself with my Jeet Kune Do, remember?"
Shinichi was about to say yes, but then he realized that this wasn't something he knew. "No."
Sera raised an eyebrow. "No?"
"No, I don't remember, because I didn't know you were practicing martial arts too." He paused, pretending to let this new information sink in. "Interesting."
"But, Conan-kun knows." She said, strangely emphatsizing his other name. Just like in the bowling alley, he got the feeling that she already knew of his identity and just like in the bowling alley, this feeling was not a good one.
He shrugged. "So what?"
Sera gave him a look that said Are you really gonna play that game?, but when he didn't react to that look, she decided that verbal communication was apparently necessary.
"You recognized me."
"When we ran into you at the Professor's house, you recognized me immediately. You said to the Professor that you didn't notice he had visitors, so my voice didn't give it away, unless you lied, for which there would be no reason to." She narrowed her eyes on him.
Shinichi tried to keep a casual composure, as he noticed she was trying to put the shakes on him. "I'm sorry to repeat myself, but again: so what?"
"You recognized me and still introduced yourself, because you're..." She hesitated. Shinichi expected her to end her pause with ...Conan-kun!, but she didn't. "...you're...you're..." Insecurity slightly crept onto Sera's face.
Shinichi used her loss of words to cut in. "...because I'm not an idiot."
"I knew you were Masumi Sera, because I ran into Conan when I arrived at Agasa's place. He told me that you'd be doing a hiking trip with Sonoko and Ran today, remember?"
"...but I ran into Conan on the way here and he told me you three would be out of town this weekend, so I wasn't in rush to get out of here, if that's what you wanted to know, Sonoko."
"And when I saw you standing there with Sonoko and Ran, I simply deduced you were Masumi Sera." Shinichi flashed her a grin that was almost taunting. "Besides, Conan-kun send me a picture of you after your first meeting at that hotel."
"So, let me get this straight, yeah? He send you a picture of me, but didn't tell you about my Jeet Kune Do skills?"
"Uhm, no...he didn't mention that. He was more focussed on your deductive abilities when describing you."
"I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record, but what was your point again?"
Sera looked at him like he was an alien, before turning around. "Nothing, forget it...now that you're here with me, help me to look some clues, alright?"
They spend what felt like an hour - Shinichi didn't look on his watch, so he couldn't say for sure - looking for clues, but didn't find any. Neither of prankster, nor of the 'Woman in Red'. Working together didn't become a problem, but Sera avoided saying anything more than was necessary. Until they decided to call it a day and head back to the mansion, that is. Shinichi was still thinking where he could've met her before, but his memory was failing him on that one. Then, Sera broke the silence again.
"What did happen at London?" It wasn't much more than a whisper.
"Pardon?" Shinichi said, because he didn't hear.
"What happened in London?" Her voice was now a bit too loud, but she wasn't quite screaming either.
Shinichi frowned. Why was she talking about that again? "Sonoko told you, didn't she?"
"So, it's true...what she said about the love confession?"
"..." Shinichi was at a loss of words, as he wasn't sure what Sera wanted to hear, what she wanted to say or what her point was exactly. Should he call her out for not making any damn sense? Noticing her questioning stare, still awaiting a answer, he decided to stick to her questions.
"Yes..." He felt himself blush a bit. "...Sonoko told you the truth." And again, he couldn't quite read the expression on Sera's face, which concerned him, as Sera was usually someone who showed a lot of her emotions on her face.
She looked back onto the path ahead. "I see." That was all. The finality of these two words told him unmistakenly This conversation is over.
He could've just left it at that. But his instinct told him he shouldn't; his appearance as Shinichi Kudo seemed to threw Sera off her balance and caused some cracks in her mask; created bugs in the game she was playing. If he pushed her a little bit more, maybe he could get some of her secrets.
He put one hand on her shoulder. "Sera..."
The girl looked shocked and confused, turning her gaze from Shinichi's hand back to his eyes and back again.
"Could it be..."
"Hey, guys!" They suddenly heard someone shout. Shinichi immediately removed his hand, like he was doing something naughty. He cursed inwardly for such a childish reaction. Sera and Shinichi turned around to see Jinsuke walking up behind them, carrying two white shopping bags.
The dark-skinned quickly caught up to the two detectives, looking at them expectantly. "So? Any clues yet?"
They both shook their heads. "No, nothing."
"Ahh, too bad. Don't worry, you guys have my confidence!"
Sera managed a smile. "Thanks. You went shopping?"
Jinsuke raised both bags a bit. "Yeah, the next store is just one kilometer away. I got us some groceries and drinks, we were kinda low on those."
The rest of their way back to mansion was spent with mostly Jinsuke telling various little stories from his high school time. Shinichi didn't hear much though, as he was deep in thought about his 'conversation' with Sera earlier and from the few glances he shot at Sera, she wasn't listening either.
"I'm back!" Jinsuke announced when they entered the mansion again. Tamami came from the kitchen to greet them.
"Oh." She said when she saw that Shinichi and Sera were with her friend. "Did you guys go to the shop together?"
"No, we ran into each other on the way back." Jinsuke replied.
Sera closed the door behind them. "We didn't find any clues though."
Shinichi looked around. "Where are Ran and Sonoko?"
"They finished cleaning together with Sumika and wanted to take a bath. So they should be in the..." Tamami started, but was interrupted by a sudden scream.
"WHA...WHAT IS THIS?!" The voice of Sumika screeched throughout the entire mansion.
Sera and Shinichi didn't hesitate for a second. Detective skills awake as always, they immediately dashed towards the source of the scream.
"It-it's scary..." They heard Sonoko say.
"Is this another prank?" Ran added.
Shinichi and Sera almost busted through the door in their haste.
"RAN!" Shinichi shouted.
"What happened?!" Sera exclaimed.
They didn't need an answer from the three females; upon entering the bathroom, nobody could possibly miss what they were screaming about. The entire tub was filled with red tomatoes. Tamami now also reached the bathroom and gasped. Then after a while of staring she asked: "Where is Masaie? Shouldn't he be with you guys?"
The two detectives eyes widened, both having a horrible suspicion.
"Kudo-kun, don't tell me..." Sera started without looking at Shinichi, but the boy had already set himself in motion, going over to the tub.
"Hey, Sera, help me with this!" He shouted. Sera followed him and helped opening the lids covering most of the bathtub. Shinichi reached through the tomatoes into the green water and stirred around the tub with his arm. Then, he felt something at the bottom, so he grabbed it and pulled it to the surface. Moments later, the group was staring into the lifeless eyes of Masaie Hakuya.
Sera and Shinichi stared at the body in shock, while Sonoko and Ran just screamed.
Phew, lots of exposition in this one. This chapter might seem familiar and lazy from my side, because it's a very simple adaptation of the original story, but honestly, there wasn't a good way to change that up, besides altering the dialogue due to the difference between Shinichi and Conan in behaviour.
Unique to this chapter is the scene with Sera and Shinichi in the forest, searching for clues. In the manga, Conan runs off with Sera too, but the reader stays with Sonoko and Ran in the mansion. Conan and Sera return later with the same result of no clues found and their search is not mentioned again. However, it's Shinichi who runs off with Sera and my narrating perspective stays with Shinichi all the time, you get to see this forest scene. I'm not quite whether or not I should be happy with that scene, so feedback on that would be appreciated (although regular feedback is just fine too). Was that scene too OOC, too confusing/it made no sense? Not sure.
Chapter 5: The Epistaxis
What Shinichi felt right now was quite nasty. Not that he wasn't used to corpses of various kinds by now; quite the opposite actually. But holding a drowned person up by its hair, not too long after that person died; that was a new one, even for Shinichi. He felt the urge to let go of Masaie's wet hair and wipe his hand with a towel, but he resisted that urge just for a little while longer.
Shinichi put his free hand to Masaie's throat, to check for any pulse, just as a confirmation of what everyone in the room already knew. As expected, he didn't find one.
Sera, who helped him open the lids of the bathtub, stood behind his crouching figure and looked over his shoulder. Shinichi turned his head around and saw her questioning eyes upon his inspection of the victims pulse. He shook his head, which told her everything she needed to know.
It wasn't until now that he noticed the screaming of his friends and the panicky murmurs of Tamami, Sumika and Jinsuke.
"Alright, everybody calm down!" He shouted, gaining everbody's attention. "Masaie is dead. We should call the police and wait for their arrival together in the dining room. This way we can be sure that the murderer is caught."
Sonoko and Ran nodded, but the adults weren't so compliant yet. "We're detectives." Sera said, in response to their doubting looks. "We've dealt with murder cases before and this is the best way to ensure the police can do their work properly. You can ask them about that when they arrive. Now we should all leave the crime scene, without altering anything!" Her tone was harsh and brief; the best way to get panicking people to do something, was still strict and short orders. If you could give off an aura of authority, even though you didn't have any, most people will still follow your orders in that situation; although they should technically know that Sera didn't have the capacity to order them around, they still left the bathroom and headed for the dining room.
"Sera?" Shinichi whispered.
"Can you watch them and call the police? I want to get a good look at the crime scene before forensics arrive."
"Sure. Should I start to interrogate them a bit?"
"Maybe a little bit, but let it come naturally. And don't push them yet, we should leave that part for when the police has arrived."
"Got it." Sera said and crouched down to the ground beside him. Before Shinichi could get a look at what she was doing, she had one hand burrowed in her pocket and stood up again. "Come on, Sonoko-chan."
Shinichi didn't turn around as he heard Sera leave the room, he still looked at the body of Masaie. Now it was finally time to let go of him; Shinichi gently rested the body against the side of the bathtub, making sure he didn't slide back into the green water.
"Shinichi, was he really murdered?" He heard Ran ask.
"Yeah." Shinichi answered. He didn't want to use any towels from this bathroom, preserving the crime scene and all that, so he absentmindedly swiped his hand over his pants a few times until it was dry. "I see blood coming from his head. It seems like there is some kind of wound there."
"Couldn't he have fallen, injured his head that way and drowned afterwards?" Ran inquired.
"No. The lids were closed when we came in here. There was only a small slit of water visible before Sera and I opened them; he couldn't have fallen through and still be completely underwater." Shinichi stood up and looked around the room. "Besides, he should've floated, but didn't. I also felt some sort of resistance when I pulled him up, so his body must've been weighted down by something."
"I see." Ran said.
Suddenly, something dawned on Shinichi's mind. 'Wait a minute...Ran?!'
He jolted around and sure enough, there was Ran. Clad only in a bathing towel. Why didn't he notice she was still here? Was he so deep in thought? Shinichi looked to the side and saw some women's underwear lying in a basket near the bathtub. 'That's right, Tamami said that Sonoko and Ran wanted to take a bath with Sumika...' He thought before looking back at Ran, who seemed to be thinking herself, probably about what happened here. Shinichi gulped; the blush on his face wasn't the result of the steaming hot water behind him.
"Erhm...Ran, what are you doing...?" He stammered.
"Helping you with the crime scene of course!" Ran exclaimed. Surprised by the determination in her own voice, she continued more quietly. "I mean, I wanted to make sure you don't contaminate it in any way."
If the situation was any different, Shinichi would've called her an idiot for not trusting his detective skills, but right now, he could only continue to stammer. "That's...really nice of you, but shouldn't you...you know..." He gestured helplessly at his own chest.
"What?" Ran asked, pouting a bit. Didn't she realize the situation they were in? The two of them, alone in a bathroom - with a corpse no less - and Ran without any clothes on.
"I mean, shouldn't...you...you...put on some clothes...?" He managed to get out.
"Huh?" Ran was oblivious to what he meant. Appartenly Shinichi wasn't the only one who could forget the circumstances when in thought in this room. Ran looked down at her and than back to Shinichi's blushing face. Now she seemed to also get aware of their situation, as she started to blush herself. Both wanted to say something to get out of this awkward moment, but neither was able to get out words at the moment. Unfortunately, being flustered like that, Ran didn't use her hands to hold the towel in place. Thus, she couldn't prevent the towel from unwrapping itself due to gravitational forces.
If life was a movie, this would be a slow motion moment and even though life wasn't, it sure as hell felt like slow motion right now. Her towel started falling, revealing things Shinichi wasn't supposed to see. By the time Ran noticed what was happening, her chest was already revealed. Thankfully, she was fast enough to catch it before it fully went past her bellybutton.
It was like a car accident; you don't want to see it, but at the same you somehow can't look away. It was the same for Shinichi right now; he knew he should be looking elsewhere, but somehow he just couldn't turn his gaze away. Atleast until she caught the towel, because he suddenly felt pressure in his skull. In panic, he quickly turned around when...
Before Shinichi really knew it, his hands, chest and presumably face were covered in blood. He had the biggest nosebleed of his life. Way worse than at the one time Sonoko sent him a special sexy bikini shot of Ran and even worse than in the bath with Ran as Conan, because back then he didn't see too much, as he actively tried not to look. But this time, he got a complete, close up view of her upper body and the intensity of his nosebleed reflected that. If he were Conan right now, that nosebleed might've knocked him out cold.
Shinichi didn't know what to do, so he just stared at blood dripping from his nose to his hands. After what seemed to be an eternity, he heard Ran's voice from behind.
"Shi-Shinichi..." Ran hesitantly said.
"I...I didn't see anything...I swear!" Shinichi stammered.
Which was about the dumbest thing he could say right now. He had the evidence of him seeing way too much in his hands. Ran wasn't dumb, he couldn't talk himself out of that one.
"Uhm...that's good..." Ran stuttered. "I fixed the towel, so...you can turn around again..."
"I...I'd rather not..."
"It's fine...let's try to not make this anymore...uncomfortable, okay?"
Shinichi groaned. Turning around will make it very uncomfortable, but saying anything in that direction would just confuse her, so he hesitantly turned around and faced her. Atleast she really did fix her towel; her face showing embarassment and, once he fully turned around, worry.
"Oh god, Shinichi, where did all this blood come from?!" Ran shrieked.
"It's..." He took a deep breath. "It's just...a nosebleed..."
"A nosebleed...? But why...?" Ran muttered, before she apparently made the connection. Her expression darkened. "So you did see something..." Ran clenched her fists.
Shinchi closed his eyes. 'I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, oh god, I'm so dead!' He thought. He heard Ran coming closer to him. 'This is how I finally face my end. Lord, please, have mercy with me...'
He suddenly felt her grip on his wrist and his whole body winced at her touch. But, for some reason, he didn't feel any pain just yet. Shinichi just heard Ran breathe and...did she just chuckle at his flinching?
Shinichi carefully opened one eye, only to see Ran standing way too close to him. She tugged his arm. "Come on, do you want to strike roots here?"
"Huh?" Was the only thing Shinichi got out.
"You're bleeding. If you keep standing there you'll contaminate the crime scene."
Ran sighed. "Just come with me."
When he still didn't move, Ran lost her patience and literally dragged him towards the bathroom door. Even if he would thinking quickly enough right now to stem down his feet, he wouldn't have been able to stop her from dragging him along.
Moments later, they were both standing in one of the guest rooms where they had stored their backpacks earlier. Thankfully, nobody went looking for them, so they got from the bathroom to this room unnoticed. Ran handed him a few wet tissues.
"Here. I'm gonna get dressed, so turn around and try to get your hands a bit cleaner."
Still kinda paralyzed by fear, he would probably do anything she ordered right now, so he did exactly what she said.
"Oh and Shinichi?" Ran asked, with a very scary voice. "If you get a look this time, you'll find out how that power pole felt."
"T-that's the captain of the karate team for you..." He heard his past self say, accompanied by Ran's laughter.
"Hahhah, d-don't worry..." Shinichi mumbled like an idiot, an idiot scared to death that is, and concentrated very hard on scrubbing his hands with the tissues.
"You can turn around now." It was the second time today that he heard that sentence from Ran, but that didn't make his turning around any less hesitant. Thank god, Ran was really dressed and didn't set him up. She took a few more tissues and came closer to him.
"Ran...what are you..." Shinichi started, but she cut him off.
"Don't talk. We don't have mirror in here, so you won't be able to clean up your face properly. Let me just quickly do this..." She said and proceeded to gently swipe his face with the tissues.
'Faces...so close...' Shinichi thought. He tried to distract himself with finishing to clean up his hands, but he could still feel himself blushing. When Ran was done with his face, she formed two plugs out of tissues and stopped his nose from bleeding any further with them. For a second, he was afraid Ran would just ram them up his nose, but she was very gentle with that too.
Ran took a few steps away from him; Shinichi noticed that she was also blushing a bit. It looked like she wasn't completely taken over by rage after all.
"So, Shinichi, tell me...what did you see?"
Okay, maybe she wasn't completely taken over by rage, but the look she put on her face now was still scary.
"Erm, well...you see..." He stammered. The fact that he had to concentrate to not slur his words due to the plugs wasn't really helping him to come up with a coherent sentence.
"The truth, Shinichi!" Ran emphasized. "Don't even think about an excuse."
He sighed. Apparently his death was merely delayed. "Pretty much everything what was revealed by the falling towel..."
"So, that means..."
Shinichi proactively cut her off. "I saw everything from your head to your bellybutton, yes." Might as well answer her question as precisely as possible. He felt his head light up in all kinds of red.
"I see..." Her voice was cold, but her expression remained unreadable. If she ever followed her mother's footsteps, Shinichi wanted to make sure to never get cross-examined by her.
She came closer to him again. "Hm, you got blood on your shirt too..." Ran said, her voice sounding very mischievous right now. It was scary how evil she could sound if she wanted to. "I guess you'll have to change clothes too. Here, let me help you with that..." Before Shinichi could even comprehend her words, Ran had already begun to take off his shirt.
"Wait, Ran, hey, Ran! Wa-wa-wait a minute..." He tried to hold her off, but to no avail. In a flash, she held the shirt in her hands and he was left standing topless before her. Shinichi tried to reach for his shirt, but Ran demonstratively stepped a few steps back again. Her eyes told him to stay right where he was. From her position Ran looked up and down on his body, seemingly examining every inch of his torso.
Atleast she was having a blush on her face that matched his. He squirmed under her scrutiny; Shinichi then tried to regain some dignity by burying his hands in the pockets of his pants that Ran had thankfully not taken off as well. After he looked everywhere in the room, except her face of course, he looked down at himself. Surprisingly, he was in a pretty decent shape, better than the last time he was at his right age, if his memory didn't fail him. He was doing a lot more sports as Conan recently, especially with the Detective Boys being very adamant about playing soccer and doing other fun stuff in Beika Park. Did being more fit as Conan translate into being more fit as Shinichi or was he just imagining things?
'I'll have to tell Haibara about that observation, maybe it'll help her research...' Shinichi thought. 'Atleast I look decent in front of Ran...' He then noticed another thing. 'Oh crap, the scar!' He tried to inconspicuously move one arm in front of it, hoping that Ran didn't notice.
She was looking at him for atleast two minutes now, although it felt like way longer than that to him. For a second Shinichi thought about how unfairly low his viewtime was in comparison, but he pushed that thought aside as quickly as it came; some accused him of not getting women sometimes, but the thought that being topless is more embarassing for women than for men occured even to him.
"You are actually enjoying this, aren't you?" Shinichi decided to break the silence.
Ran did something he thought he might never see again. She smiled. It was one of her very sweet, innocent smiles. Funny, considering this was pretty much the least innocent situation the two of them ever were in.
"A little bit, I guess." Ran answered. She went over to his bag and took a fresh shirt out of it, while Shinichi took out the tissue plugs from his nose. Thankfully, it wasn't bleeding anymore. Ran held up the shirt in front of him and Shinichi slipped into the sleeves, wanting to button the shirt up, but Ran started with that before he could.
"Ran, I am able to dress myself, you know?" He said.
She shook her head. "I undressed you, so I'm gonna dress you again as well."
'Fascinating logic!' Shinichi snarked to himself.
Shinichi shivered. Everytime Ran fastened up another button, her warm hands gently brushed against his abdomen and his body reacted to each of her touches. Ran seemed to notice and her pursed lips formed another smile.
"Do you have something to say about his whole situation?" She asked.
"Well..." He considered words carefully. Ran seemed relaxed again, but that could fade quickly. "...I'm really sorry for looking, but it all happened so fast. You know I don't do things like that on purpose. I never went with the my teammates when they decided that it would be cool to sneak into the girls locker room..."
Ran smiled, fondly remembering punching the ever living crap out of his teammates. "Right. Yeah, I know that you aren't like that. Especially considering that there are probably so many fangirls that would willingly show you more than..." The words what I showed you today... died on her lips.
Shinichi decided to push his luck. "Even if, I wouldn't want to see that..." His next words were merely a whisper, but since they were so close it didn't matter for them. "...the only one I have that kind of attraction for is you..."
"Shinichi,...I, uhm..." She whispered. "...me too..."
Ran finished buttoning up his shirt, keeping her hands rested on his collar and now looked him directly in his eyes. Suddenly, he felt her pulling him closer to her.
Instead of saying anything else, they both leaned in further, until they were as close as they were at their school play. They fluttered their eyes shut and then finally they...
"Ran! Shinichi-kun!" Sonoko screamed in the hallway.
The two of them came to a halt and immediately put some distance between them, as they heard the footsteps of their classmate approaching. Shinichi sighed. "In here, Sonoko."
The rich girl opened the door. "Hey, the...oh my, what are you two doing in here?"
"Shinichi just started to search the rooms for something suspicious and I wanted to make he doesn't make a mess of the place." Came the immediate excuse from Ran.
Shinichi rolled his eyes and pretended to be offended. "This is not the first time I search rooms...anyway, Sonoko, what is the matter?"
"Uhm..." Sonoko was confused. She looked like she wanted to press the issue of what the two were doing, but she decided that there were more important things right now. "...the police has arrived and they want to have you two in the dining room with them right now."
"Ah, good." Shinichi was pleased that the police arrived so fast. On the other hand, this one time he wouldn't have minded a little bit of lateness. "Alright. Let's go."
Sonoko nodded and went back to the dining room. Shinichi and Ran set themselves in motion as well. Standing in the door, Ran put one hand on his shoulder and whispered: "What happened after everyone left the bathroom...stays just between us, alright?"
Shinichi smiled and nodded. "Of course."
Chapter 6: The Investigation, Part I
The dining room had the usual thick atmosphere of any place where a murder happened not too long ago: on one side, the acquaintances/potential suspects, who are mostly speechless by a person being torn out of its and their life and on the other side, the investigators, who are poised to speculate what happened. But at the same time, the latter are held back by the grief of the former; the investigators have to be careful not to traumatize people who have just faced death with their cold, logical and, in the eyes of the mourning people, cruel words. Shinichi rarely stood on the side of the acquaintances, and even then he mostly investigated. Akemi came to his mind; he really didn't want anything like that to happen in the future. He almost automatically glanced over to Ran; 'No.' Shinichi thought. 'Never again.'
He shook his head to get a clear mind; this was not the time for reminiscence, it was time to catch a murderer. Shinichi looked at the police force present; what he saw were two ununiformed, male officers and Yui Uehara. It seemed like she was the one in charge here. This was a good thing in Shinichi's mind; he worked together with the 29 year old female police detective on several cases in the past - as Conan, mind you -, he knew she was pretty capable at her job. Although it did surprise him a little bit that she was here without her usual partner - and love interest if you asked Ran and Kazuha -, Inspector Kansuke Yamato.
Yui spotted Ran and Shinichi joining them in the dining room. "Ah, Ran-chan! Good to see you again, although I wish the circumstances could've been less sad this time."
Ran offered an apologetic smile. "Me too. But nothing that can be done about it now, I suppose.
Yui nodded and turned her gaze to Shinichi. "And whose that handsome fellow you got there with you? Is that your..."
Shinichi didn't like where this was going. "I'm Shinichi Kudo, a classmate of Ran. Nice to meet you."
Yui smirked. "Ah yes, I heard about you from Ran-chan. I'm Detective Yui Uehara." Yui clapped her hands together, signaling to everybody that the chit-chat was over. "Alright, now that we got everyone under our sight, shall we head over to the body and summarize the situation we have at hand?" It wasn't really a question and the officers knew that, but they still nodded dutifully. The two men went up in front of the group, while Yui walked behind everyone.
'This kind of walking formation really feels like preschool...' Shinichi thought.
He noticed that Ran started to trail a bit behind, because Yui tugged at the hem of her shirt. The two women were whispering, but Shinichi could still hear them.
"Are you together with that boy now, Ran-chan? Didn't Kazuha-chan, you and I promise each other to tell when something happened in regards to our childhood friends..." Yui whispered, with a bit of teasingly fake indignation.
"Ah, no, I remember. You see, what happened was..." Ran said, but Shinichi decided not to listen anymore. He got his fair share of girl talk as Conan regularly, no need for him to listen to that now, especially with a murder at hand. Instead, Shinichi closed the distance between him and Sera.
"Oi, Sera, got anything out of them while waiting for the police?" Shinichi whispered.
The tomboyish girl shook her head. "Nah, they closed up pretty fast and dropped any kind of conversation. No opportunity for me to press them on anything."
"Mh, would've been too good to be true..." Shinichi sighed.
When they all got into the bathroom, two guys from forensics were already working in the smaller adhered room that had the bathtub and thus the corpse in it. Yui pulled a little notebook from her blazer and stemmed her free hand into her hip.
"So, the victim is the 28 year old Masaie Hakuya. The culprit most likely hit him with some sort of blunt object on the back of his head, which rendered the victim unconscious. Then the culprit put him into the bathtub, where Hakuya-san drowned." Yui looked up at to Masaie's friends. "You told me that Hakuya-san was in charge of cleaning the bathroom, is that right?"
Tamami sniffed and had to wipe some tears from her face. "Y-yes, that and the toilet as well." She sobbed. "Everyone of us has one task to take care of when we come here once a year. Masaie cleaned the bath and the toilet. I cook for everybody." She looked over to her two alive friends. "Sumika cleans the rooms and the hallway. And Jinsuke mostly takes care of the shopping. The next store is just one kilometer away."
She had to fight back another swell of tears, so Sumika continued for her friend. "Once we're done with our own tasks, we usually help the others with their stuff."
Jinsuke started to sob as well. "If I had just helped Masaie with the cleaning instead of going to the shop, then all of this wouldn't have happened...!"
Yui took some more notes, nodding at the appropriate times during their statements. "And which one of you was the last one to see the victim?"
Tamami was in control of herself again. "He left the dining room after lunch, to work on his cleaning duties. I didn't see him afterwards."
"When I briefly checked the bathroom, I didn't see him either." Sumika added.
Yui turned her attention to Sumika. "You checked the bathroom?"
"Yes. There was some steam coming from the bath, so I thought he maybe ran a bath for some reason. That's why I took a look at it with the two girls." Sumika looked over to Sonoko and Ran, making them the center of Yui's attention now.
"Did you check the insides of the bathtub too?"
"Yes. We opened the lids to check the water temperature." Ran replied. "But there were no tomatoes floating in the water then!"
"When Sumika-san, Ran and I were finished with cleaning the rooms, we wanted to be the first to take a bath." Sonoko chimed in. "When we finished changing clothes and entered the bathroom, we were startled upon the sight of all these tomatoes in the bathtub."
Shinichi carefully listened to the order of events that happened during his little trip into the woods Sera. Now it was time for his part of the process. "When Sera and I heard their screams, we came running to the bathroom." Shinichi said. "We both had a bad feeling about the situation, so we went over to the bathtub and I pulled Hakuya-san out of the water."
"The body was not visible until you pulled him out?" Yui asked.
"No. The surface was covered in tomatoes and the bathsalts made the water all green and untransparent. Additionally, when I pulled the body out of the water, I felt that it was weighed down by something, to make sure it wouldn't float."
"I can help with the 'something'." One of the forensic guys spoke up. "We found dumbbells on the bottom of the tub. It looks like they were laid onto the victim's chest and stomach."
Yui put her notebook away. "So, the culprit not only sunk the body pretty effectively, but also obscured the surface with all of these tomatoes, to be really sure that the body wasn't visible..."
"In which order did you enter the bathroom?" Everyone turned around to Sera, who had stayed in the backround before her question. "The first person could've had a sack of tomatoes with her and could've emptied it into the tub before the others entered."
"Wait, are suspecting one of us?" Sonoko gasped.
"It's a valid question." Shinichi chimed in.
"Not you too, Shinichi-kun...!"
"Now, now, Sonoko, calm down." Ran tried to soothe her friend. She turned back to Sera and Shinichi. "Sumika went in first, since she was the first who finished changing out of her clothes. But she had nothing with her, except the towel she wrapped around her body. Right, Sonoko?"
Her friend nodded. "Yeah, that's right." Sonoko gave Shinichi and Sera an annoyed glare. "And besides, how would one of us just be able to walk around with a sack large enough to hold all of these tomatoes without drawing any attention?" Apparently she wasn't too fond of that theory.
Yui spoke up again. "So, Ran-chan, Sonoko-chan and Sumika-san could've theoretically committed the crime in the time between checking the water temperature and finishing with the cleaning."
Sonoko and Ran still looked intimidated by Yui's summarization of the state of facts so far, while Sumika stayed with her stoic look she had on most of the time, absentmindely plucking some lints from her rolled-up sleeve. A protest in favor of Ran and even Sonoko was already on Shinichi's lips, but he held it back. It wouldn't have been helpful to show that kind of bias now, so he had to silently wait for his classmates to be proven innocent. Instead of saying something, he shyly grabbed Ran's wrist. When she turned her head around to look at him, Shinichi gave her an reassuring look. It seemed to help her, atleast she looked a bit less tense than before.
Meanwhile, Yui had turned her attention towards Tamami and Jinsuke. "Now that we have a first window of opportunity, what were you two doing during that time?"
Tamami and Jinsuke looked to each other and back to Yui, unsure who should start. After a another small moment of silence Jinsuke went ahead. "Erm, well, I went shopping. Like Tamami said, that's my job each year. The next shop is a kilometer away, takes roughly 15 minutes to get there. I went there because we didn't have any beer. A-and we were also low on regular beverages..." He hastily added the last sentence when he noticed Yui's stern expression. "Anyway, I ran into these two on my back here. Right?"
He turned to Shinichi and Sera. They both nodded to confirm his statement. Jinsuke further explained that the juice he gave them was still icecold, thus confirming that he just recently bought it at the store. Besides the fact that his alibi had strong witness in the shop owner. The juice had indeed been very cold, Shinichi remembered, but other than that he couldn't say much about it. He was so in thought about his conversation in the woods with Sera, that he didn't even remember what flavor the juice had. Sera was in the same boat in that regard.
"What exactly were you doing in the forest?" Yui asked Shinichi and Sera.
"We wanted to check out a couple of things out there." Sera answered.
"In regards to the time: we left the mansion before Jinsuke-san went out to the store and looked around the forest for some time. I didn't look on my watch, so I don't know how long we were out there. On our way back we ran into Jinsuke-san, who was already on his way back from the store." Shinichi further explained.
Yui nodded. "I see. And where were you, Tamami-san?"
"I took care of the dishes from lunch. After that I started to prepare dinner." Tamami replied.
"Yes. I was alone."
"Can anyone confirm that?"
Tamami looked at Ran and Sonoko. "Well, I talked to the two girls through the door."
Yui took a step towards the addressed girls. "Is that correct?"
"Yes." Sonoko answered. "We were just cleaning the dining room, which is bordering the kitchen. Tamami-san asked us whether we had any wishes for dinner."
"And when we asked if she needed our help, she told us that she was fine on her own. So I'm pretty sure that she was alone in there." Ran added.
"And was Sumika-san with you at that time?" Yui asked.
"No, Sumika-san was cleaning the upper floor alone." Ran answered.
"Unlike Tamami, I thought working together would speed things up a little, so I went down and asked them for their help. After I did that, all three of us continued to clean together." Sumika said calmly.
"But Sumika-san was definitely cleaning the upper floor the whole time. We heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner the whole time and from to time the sounds of her hitting a wall with it." Ran added.
Yui narrowed her eyes. "So, we can conclude from that, that it was possible for Tamami-san to committ the murder in the time when Sumika-san, Ran-chan and Sonoko-chan were busy cleaning the upper floor." She turned to Tamami. "Do you anything to add to that?"
Tamami's eyes widened and she panicked. "W-what are you saying?! I really was in the kitchen the whole time! Right until Jinsuke came back from his shopping trip!"
"I don't think that Tamami did it." Sumika calmly said, gaining the attention of Yui. "I only cleaned this floor with the girls, which includes the bath. Tamami knows that I'm very thorough in my cleaning duties. Would she really try to secretely committ a murder with that knowledge."
Yui raised one hand to her chin. "But then, who did it?"
Shinichi thought about that as well. 'Let's see. Sera was with me, so she's definitely out. With the store, Jinsuke has a pretty solid alibi, unless he had a secret way to cross the distance faster. Tamami could've done it. Ran, Sonoko and Sumika are also out. Unless...' Shinichi looked around the room, thinking. 'Unless the body was already in the tub when the three checked the temperature. The water was green from the bathsalts already, so Ran wouldn't be able to spot the body. It was at the bottom of the tub; I had to reach into it very deep, almost my entire underarm was in the water before I reached the body. If Ran only put a wrist length into the tub, she wouldn't have noticed the body.
If that was the case, then Ran and Sonoko could've done it together, or Sumika could've done it alone. I doubt it was Ran and Sonoko however, no motive at all, they didn't even know the guy. Sumika...she could've done, if she had a way to fake the vacuum sounds. Motive? Hm...atleast she knew him, maybe something bad happened between them...'
Shinichi was taken out of his thoughts, when the nervous Jinsuke answered to Yui's question. "The...THE WOMAN IN RED! IT HAS TO BE THE WOMAN IN RED!"
Yui was a bit sceptical. "The Woman in Red? You mean, that murderer from 15 years ago?"
"T-that's right!" Jinsuke nodded vigorously, but his face was pale. "The Woman in Red, the one that murdered someone in a mansion nearby, 15 years ago. So she really did hide in the forest for all these years! She smashed the window with the apples, she put the petals in the boiler and she splashed the door with red paint!"
Even Tamami and Sumika looked at their friends questioningly. "But why would she want to kill Masaie?" Tamami asked.
"SHE'S A CRAZY MURDERER! DO YOU THINK SHE NEEDS A LOGICAL REASON TO KILL SOMEBODY?!" Jinsuke bursted out. He took a deep breath and continued with a quiet, shaky voice, that still sounded threatening. "T-the front door wasn't locked, right? The Woman in Red has no idea where and when Sumika cleans. So she just went into the house and killed the first one she came across!" His voice got louder again. "AND ALL OF THESE TOMATOES ARE HER CONFESSION!"
Jinsuke breathed heavily; he was very nervous and started to sweat profoundly. Everyone looked at him, but it didn't seem like anyone considered what he said to be true.
'What a load...' Shinichi thought.
Yui took it upon her to break the uncomfortable silence. "I doubt that that is the case."
She went on to explain, that the Woman in Red was a woman called Komayo Takeno. When the body of the groups friend Satoko was found in swamp three years after the original Red Woman murder, the police also found a skeleton, who was already in the swamp for roughly three years. The police suspected that it was the skeleton of said Komayo Takeno, but they couldn't prove it until recently, when the umbrilical cord of the woman was found and a DNA comparison could be made. It showed, that the skeleton in the swamp was undoubtedly Komayo Takeno.
Yui sighed. "The media will be informed tomorrow. It's a very famous case, so we as the prefectural police of Nagano are fully stretched with the analysis of all the evidence." She looked very annoyed all of a sudden. If Shinichi had to guess, this analysis she spoke of took a few extra night shifts, which Yui probably would've liked to avoid.
The adults however were looking terrified all of a sudden. "Alright...but...who murdered Masaie then?" Tamami asked.
"D-don't tell me it was the ghost of the Red Woman!"
"Oh god, if that's true, how can we defend ourselves against a ghost?!"
"YOU'LL PROTECT US, RIGH?!"
They talked at the same time, making it quite hard to understand. Yui raised her hands. "Alright, alright, why don't you all calm down now. I'm sure this all has a non supernatural explanation." She stemmed her hands back into her hip. "I'll take another look around the house and then I'll decide what we'll do next." Yui turned towards the three adults especially. "You three: please wait in your rooms."
Tamami, Jinsuke and Sumika did exactly that. Sonoko and Ran went straight to the room where the teenagers all stored their backpacks. Shinichi and Sera, however, expressed interest in looking around the house with Yui, to which she reluctantly agreed. Since Shinichi and Sera were out of the picture as culprits, it didn't really matter the female police detective.
First up, they looked through Jinsuke's room. Of course, the baseball bat he had with him raised some question by Yui. One of the forensics guys started to examine it.
"So, let me get this straight: You wanted to stop the Woman in Red with this?"
"Yeah. I also wanted to drive off the prankster, who does all of these bad jokes every year, with this." Jinsuke answered.
Yui nodded. "I see." She turned to the forensics guy. "Well?"
The man shook his head. "No scratches or anything and no luminol reaction. This isn't the thing that the victim was knocked out with. But it is a bit sticky, seems like something was glued to this recently."
"Huh. Educated guess what it was?" Yui asked, but the forensics guy just shrugged. Yui sighed yet again.
"I wonder..." Sera said. "...why is there a fan in the corner, if this mansion has air conditioning?" She was right, there was indeed a fan in the room.
Jinsuke shrugged. "Well, maybe the previous guests couldn't tolerate air conditioning and they forgot to put the fan back into the closet?"
Nobody had any explanation for that, so they just left it at that. Jinsuke stayed in room, while the others went on to the room Sonoko and Ran were in. Outside, thunder could be heard. A storm was really close now.
Ran and Sonoko were sitting on the bed in the room, talking about this and that. The room itself wasn't suspicious, but Yui did check the backpacks of the teenagers, but not a complete search since it seemed unnecessary with the current state of facts. Luckily for Shinichi, Yui or anyone else found the Conan clothes he took with him under his Shinichi clothes, just in case. What she found, however, was Shinichi's bloody shirt.
'Oh crap...!' Shinichi thought.
"This is blood, isn't it? Can you explain that to me, Kudo-kun?" Yui raised an eyebrow at teenager.
Shinichi raised his hands. "Yes, you see, that's my blood. I had a little...accident..." He sheepishly said, blushing a bit. He threw a glance at Ran; her face was just as red.
"What kind of...accident?" Yui inquired.
"OH MY GOD!" Sonoko screamed. She pointed a finger at Shinichi. "YOU..."
Everyone waited for Sonoko to continue her sentence, as she threw in a dramatic pause. "YOU SAW RAN NAKED!"
Yui, Sera, Shinichi and Ran blankly stared at Sonoko. She still pointed at him; Shinichi gulped. "And...what makes you think that?" He asked as calm as possible, trying to regain some of his composure.
"You can't fool me, Shinichi-kun!" Sonoko explained. "I didn't see you and Ran until I called you two to the dining room. You had already changed clothes by then. There is only one explanation: you two went into this room and you caught a look of Ran while she was changing, causing you to nosebleed all over that shirt! You can't fool Deduction Queen Sonoko!"
Sera and Yui were speechless, turning their gazes towards Ran and Shinichi. The two teenagers thought the same thing at the moment. 'How come Sonoko is always so spot on about these things?!'
"So..." Sonoko said. "I take your silence as a yes? Did the husband finally get to see some of his wife's most valuable goods?"
"SONOKO!-" Ran shrieked.
"Huh?" The three teenage girls exclaimed.
Shinichi put on an exasperated face. "Yeah, I wish. The truth is, Ran and I were looking around for clues - both completely dressed, mind you, Sonoko - and during that, we turned around without looking and next thing I know, Ran hits me in the face with her elbow! No wonder my nose started to bleed, considering that even accidental movements by Ran are pretty strong."
His explanation caused another awkward silence. The teenage girls were still staring blankly at him, while Yui seemed to question her sanity. Atleast judging from the look on her face.
Meanwhile, Ran used the silence to fake-react properly. "What do you mean 'I wish', Shinichi?!" She said and punched his arm.
"Ow..." He said and rubbed the spot she hit.
"And Sonoko, what do you mean 'valuable goods'?" She punched her friend's arm too. "I'm not a market stall! And I'm not his wife!" She punch her friend's arm again, on the exact same spot.
"Ow...why me twice?" Sonoko said and rubbed the spot Ran hit; involuntarily mirroring Shinichi's movements.
Ran groaned. "Honestly, you should both get your minds of the gutter!"
"Yes, Ma'am..." They both mumbled, still rubbing their arms.
Sera and Yui were still speechless because of the scene they just witnessed. Yui cleared her throat. "Anyway...here." She handed Shinichi the bloody shirt. "I guess...we're done here. Let's head for the next room." Yui hurried out of the room, more than happy to escape this situation. Sera followed her immediately, glancing at Shinichi once more before she left the room completely.
Sonoko sighed. "And here I finally thought Shinichi-kun got something better than the sexy shot I send him that one time..."
"Sonoko..." Ran growled and raised her hand.
"No, no, no, Ran, please don't hit that spot again, it still hurts." Sonoko protectively held her arm.
"Fine." Ran said, before turning sheepishly turning to Shinichi. "Speaking of which: you deleted that picture, right...?"
"Ah, actually no, I use that as my screensaver now." Shinichi said.
"WHAT?!" The two girls shrieked.
Shinichi chuckled. "Relax, I'm joking. Of course I deleted it."
'Not voluntarily though...' He added mentally. For a moment, he feared Ran would punch his arm again, but she spared him.
Shinichi went over to his backpack and wanted to put his bloody shirt away, when he noticed something on the sleeves of the shirt. There were lots of...crystalline structures...?
He curiously put one of them in his mouth. 'This taste...these are definitely salt crystals...I reached into the bathtub with that sleeve...Ah!' A sudden realization flashed through his mind. 'Salt crystals on sleeves. The water in the tub. Floating tomatoes...Hehe, now I definitely know who the culprit is!'
Chapter 7: The Deduction and the Call
Another thunderstrike roared through the night and rain started to pour down. The wind wasn't gentle anymore like it was when the four teenagers arrived at mansion earlier, now it was violent; it shook the trees, threatening to uproot them. It truly wasn't a weather where a human should be outside, but the long-haired woman dressed in red didn't care for that. The wind and the rain whipped around her, but she ignored it, as she was still observing the mansion. Two police cars were parked in front of it. Not for long though, as one of the cars drove off. Now, only the patrol car was parked by the mansion. The woman tightened her grip around her knife.
Shinichi left the room where his group stored their backpacks, with his bloody shirt curled up in his hand so it wouldn't raise any attention, leaving Ran and Sonoko there. He looked around for Sera; now that he was sure of who the culprit was, he had to solidify the evidence and he needed her help for that. Shinichi wasn't sure what Sera did when she kneeled down besides him in the bathroom when they found the corpse, but now he had a theory.
"Got it." Sera said and crouched down to the ground beside him. Before Shinichi could get a look at what she was doing, she had one hand burrowed in her pocket and stood up again.
Yui was talking to her colleagues, but Sera wasn't with her. Didn't she want to check out the other rooms with the police detective? Shinichi moved over to Yui. Her colleague just told her about the forensic report.
"So, he was knocked out with one of the dumbbells?" Yui asked.
"Yeah, the forensic guys said the shape of the wound on the back of the victims head matches with the shape of the dumbbells." The police detective replied.
"Are they finished with everything?"
"Yep, they worked through the whole house and have already removed the body. They left with their truck just a minute ago to get the body to the pathology department and to evaluate the evidence in their lab."
"Driving through a storm in this kind of landscape..." Yui looked outside a nearby window, the rain pattering against it. "I hope they'll be safe...Anyway, did Inspector Yamato report something yet?"
"No, Ma'am, we have received no word-..."
That was the point the conversation got uninteresting for Shinichi. He went around the place still looking for Sera, when he finally heard her voice.
"Thank you, Aniki..."
Shinichi gasped. Aniki. Just a normal term you use to adress your big brother. Yet, because of that jerk Vodka, Shinichi flinched when he just heard the word. Even out of Sera's mouth. 'Damn it, couldn't she use any other term to adress her brother...wait, she's talking to her brother again? Let's see what they have to discuss.' He thought.
It didn't sound like he was in luck, as it seemed that their conversation was about to end. "Yes...yes, I know...no, no, it's not like that, no...yeah, I will...yes, I'll do that, than-...yes, okay I got it. Alright, see you." Sera said, before hanging up. She sighed and started to mutter out her thoughts. "...now, how do I get the evidence...?"
That was his cue. "Perhaps I can help you with that." He stepped closer to her. Sera spun around and gasped, she hadn't heard him being there or coming closer.
"Kudo! Gosh, you startled me...do you like to sneak up on people?" She panted a bit.
He offered her a smile. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you or to listen in on what your phone call was about, but...I was looking for you, you know?"
Sera's eyes widened a bit. "You...were?" Did she just blush a little bit or was he imagining things?
"Yes. When we were in the bathroom, you crouched beside me and picked something up, right?" He didn't wait for an answer. "You took a tomato with you, didn't you?"
Sera grinned and pulled the red object out from one of the pockets of her jacket. "Yep. I have a theory about that." She playfully raised an eyebrow. "And if you guessed that I took one of these with me, I assume you have the same theory?"
"I think so. Take a look at this." He unfolded his bloody shirt from his hand. "Do you see this, on the sleeve I reached into the tub with?"
Sera took a closer look. "Are those...?"
"Salt crystals, yes."
"So many, huh?"
"Mhm. What do you say, Sera? You wanna head over to the kitchen and test our theory?"
"You betcha, Kudo!"
On their way to the kitchen, it occured to Shinichi that he and Sera had dismissed honorifics while talking to each other. He couldn't quite recall when it happened during this day, but he was sure they didn't start without them. Anyway, there were more important matters at hand right now.
"So..." Shinichi started. "...if we suppose that Masaie-san died after Ran, Sonoko and Sumika-san checked the water temperature, only Tamami-san and Jinsuke-san would've had the opportunity to kill him."
"True. But, that's not the only possibility, of course. If the corpse was already in the tub by then, the window of opportunity changes." Sera continued. "You had to reach far into the tub, as evident by the sleeve of your shirt. It was possible for Ran-chan to miss it, if she just casually dipped her hand into the water."
"Right. The body was weighed down and the water was completely green and untransparent, thanks to the bathsalts. A perfect setup to give us a wrong time window. None of the possible culprits had the chance to put the tomatoes into the bathtub after the temperature check though, so they also already had to be in there by then."
"Tomatoes with a high sugar level do not float, in contrary to regular tomatoes. If you then give enough salt into the water, they will float to the top. The culprit had to put in a large amount of bathsalts to get the water green, but just barely not enough for the tomatoes to float. Then, a very small amount of salt could've been enough to bring them to the surface."
"And if that is the case, then there is only one person who could've done it. If the tomatoes really have a high sugar level."
"Well..." Sera said, tossed the tomato up and caught it with the same hand. "...that's what were about to find out." She flashed him another smile; exposing her snaggletooth once again.
'Again, I'm sure I've met her before...that tooth...I can't quite remember...' Shinichi thought.
"Do I have something in my face?" Sera asked.
Shinichi looked up to meet her eyes. "Ahh, no, I was just thinking, sorry. Sometimes I just stare when I think."
The kitchen was empty, as expected. Everyone stuck to the police order of staying in your room. Well, almost everyone, but detectives of any kind are not bound by that kind of order, of course. Sera grabbed a glassy water pitcher from one of the cupboards and poured water into it, while Shinichi fetched a handful of salt.
"Alright." Sera put the pitcher down on one of the kitchen counters. "Let's put our theory to the test." She let go of the tomato; it immediately sank to the bottom of the pitcher.
"So far, so good. Abracadabra!" Shinichi exclaimed, jokingly imitating Kaitou Kid performing a magic trick, and gave his handful of salt into the water. And sure enough, the tomato slowly started to rise to the surface, prompting Shinichi to smile in a fashion that Haibara would describe as a bit mischievous. "I guess that proves it then. Right, Sera?"
Shinichi turned his eyes away from the pitcher and towards the female detective. To his surprise, she wasn't really paying attention to their experiment and just stared at him.
"Sera? Do I have something in my face now?" Shinichi asked.
"The...Wizard..." Sera whispered absentmindedly.
"Huh? What did you say?"
"Uhh, ahaha, nothing, nothing." Sera stuttered, her thoughts apparently back in the real world. She cleared her throat. "Ahm, yes, that is the proof that we needed. Then the culprit is indeed..."
Sera and Shinichi turned around to the door. That was Ran's voice.
"Shinichi, where are you?" Ran shouted again.
"In the kitchen!" He answered her call.
A few seconds later, Ran entered the kitchen with Sonoko in tow. In her right hand, she held her older fashioned flip phone.
"I have Conan-kun on the phone right now, he wants to talk to you. I think it's something about a case or something." Ran said and extended her arm to give Shinichi the phone.
"Conan-kun?" Shinichi said, a little bit stunned.
"Conan-kun?" Sera echoed, sounding completely baffled.
Shinichi shot her a quick glance, before he took the phone out of Ran's hand. He didn't like the look in her eyes; she looked at him with a stern and questioning expression. Atleast he didn't saw any anger, but he still wasn't sure what to make of it. Shinichi put the phone to his ear.
"Hello? Conan-kun?" Shinichi said.
"Ah, Shinichi-niichan?" Conan's voice came from the phone. Shinichi had to admit, it was a bit creepy to hear that voice right now.
Shinichi inaudibly swallowed hard. "Yes, it's me."
"Hey, I wanted to ask you about a case I'm busy with, but...I don't want anybody else to know about it, you know, client protection and all the stuff Occhan always talks about. So, can you make sure nobody can hear me?"
Almost automatically, Shinichi started to pace the room, even while 'Conan' was still speaking. He liked to move around while being on the phone anyway, so it looked quite natural when he put some distance between the three girls and him. He still felt their stares in his back with every step he took. When he was sure that they couldn't hear what 'Conan' was saying anymore - although he wasn't even sure if they could hear 'Conan's' initial words - he stopped his pacing.
Shinichi casually leaned against a kitchen counter and continued. "Yeah, it's fine, don't worry." It wasn't an appropriate answer, but he had a suspicion of who he was talking to and if he was right about that, it didn't matter that the answers didn't match the questions.
"Are you sure about that?" 'Conan' asked.
"Alright." He heard some rustling on the other side of the line. "It's me." Suddenly, Haibara's voice came through the telephone. Shinichi smirked, his guess was right.
"Just so you know who you're talking to. I'm putting the mask back on now." Again, he heard rustling and then Conan's voice returned. "Anyway, I just wanted to check in on you, but since you turned off your Conan phone and as I don't have the number of your Shinichi phone, I had to call your girlfriend under the guise of Conan. I'm pretty sure you don't mind."
It wasn't a question, but since he was still under scrutiny, he took the opportunity to throw in an answer. "No, no, it's fine, you know that you can ask me anything."
Haibara chuckled. "Yes, yes, give your girl sentences that will make her believe you're advising me on a case." She dropped her sarcastic tone. "So, I wanted to check whether you're still you and whether you have any physical afflictions."
"No, I don't think that is of any matter to the solution."
"So...that's a no then?"
Haibara mumbled something he couldn't understand; Shinichi then heard the clicking of a ballpoint pen and some scribbling noises.
"Anything to worry about, at all?"
"No, nothing of that sort."
"Hmhm, alright. Have you taken the follow-up pill already?"
"You should do that sometime soon, time's almost up."
Shinichi glanced to the time displayed on the phone. Haibara was right. "Yes, you're right about that."
"Of course I am. Alright, I heard from your girlfriend that you ran into a case over there, I take it you won't be back before tomorrow?"
"Yes, you're on the right track there."
"Can't stay out of trouble, can you? Anything else?"
"No, I think that's about everything. But it's already late and dark outside, you shouldn't..."
"But, Shinichi-niichaaaaan!" Haibara excessively whined into the phone. "It's impossible for me to fail, I'm god, don't you remember?" She dropped the act. "If that's all, then I'm hanging up now."
Shinichi had to surpress a frown at Haibara's last 'imitation' of him. "Yeah, alright, see you."
Haibara hung up without another word.
"Yeah, bye." Shinichi said into the already dead line.
"Ah, wait, I wanted to talk to him as well..." Sera said and moved towards him, but Shinichi apologetically shrugged.
"He already hung up, sorry."
Sera eyes him suspiciously. It seemed like 'Conan' calling surprised her.
"So, Ran-chan, why did Conan-kun call you?" The tomboyish girl asked, without taking her eyes off Shinichi. Remembering their conversation in the forest, Shinichi didn't have a good feeling about this.
"Oh, he just wanted to check up on me." Ran answered. "Professor Agasa told him that we were at the Professor's house, but missed him, so he wanted to make sure that everything was okay."
'Atleast Haibara did find a good reason why Conan called Ran.' Shinichi thought.
Sera nodded, still looking at Shinichi. "I see. And what was that case he asked you about, Kudo?"
Shinichi crossed the distance he created between him and the three girls, and gave Ran her phone back. "Oh, that. Nothing really. After he was done working on school stuff with his friend, the Professor gave him a very difficult, Holmes related riddle. He didn't know any further, so he needed advice from the only person he knows that has more knowledge on that subject than himself."
Sonoko snorted. "That brat, I wouldn't have thought that there was anything Holmes related he wouldn't know."
Shinichi chuckled; more at the hidden compliment for his alter ego, than out of amusement over Conan's limitations on Holmes knowledge, but the girls wouldn't be able to tell the difference. "Well, it figures. He's on a good way as a Sherlockian, but he's still so young; there's no way he could've already read everything."
"But, it really is late already." Ran said, less worrying than Shinichi would've expected. "He shouldn't work on that riddle anymore, even if there's no school tomorrow."
"Yeah, that's what I tried to tell him too." Shinichi replied. "But he was very quick in assuring me that he would go to bed soon. Although he was probably just worried you would get upset at him staying up for something like that."
"Well, that's Conan-kun for you..." Ran nodded. She still looked at Shinichi, not as suspiciously as Sera was at the moment, but still somewhat...curious? Uncertain?
Sera spoke up again. "Another thing-..." She started, but her phone beeped at the arrival of a new text message. "Ah, sorry, let me just check that real quick..." Sera turned and moved a bit away from the other teenagers; intensly staring at her phone.
'Probably her brother again...' Shinichi breathed a sigh of relief; all that talking about Conan like it wasn't him was really exhausting. He had to find a way to divert Sera's attention to another subject. But first, he wanted to speak to Ran; as Shinichi, he always knew when something was the matter to her - atleast in non-romantic regards -, so he decided to just directly ask her.
Shinichi put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, Ran, is something bothering you?" He whispered. No need for Sonoko to also hear that.
"You keep looking at me as if something was wrong..."
"Ah, no...it's nothing..." She muttered.
"Raaan..." He stretched out her name. "I always see when something is upsetting you, you should know tha-..."
Suddenly, all the lights went out; the kitchen was almost completely dark, only the display of Sera's phone gave some light.
"W-what's happening...?" Sonoko asked with a shaky voice.
"A blackout...?" Sera said.
Shinichi took out his phone as well for some more light. "Ran, Sonoko, take out your phones too."
As far as he could see, the two girls nodded. Ran still had her phone in hand, so she just needed to flip it open again for the display to shine. It took Sonoko a moment to fish out her smartphone from her pocket, but soon enough she also had a light source at hand.
"Alright, we should see if we find some candles or something." Shinichi said.
"Shouldn't we also check the fuses?" Sonoko asked.
"No, let's search for candles first." Sera replied.
"Do we even know where the fusebox is in this house?" Ran added.
"Oh...I guess we don't..." Sonoko said sheepishly and started to look around the kitchen for candles as well.
Unbeknownst to the teenagers, the adults or the police force inside the building, the long-haired still watched the mansion from not so far away. The storm wasn't merciful and she was soaked; her clothes were supposed to be rainproof, but at these floods that came down from sky, every piece of textile would've surrendered. As the lights inside the mansion went out, a smile crept onto the woman's face. Still firmly grasping her knife, she thought about what her next move should be.
The thunderstorm was wailing against the mansion. It didn't seem to get any better; in fact, Shinichi was pretty sure the storm was actually getting worse. Atleast the regular lightnings illuminated the rooms of the mansion for a few short moments, but that was the only positive thing he could make out of that storm right now.
Rummaging the kitchen didn't get them any candles, but atleast they found a flashlight in one of the drawers. Shinichi put his phone away in favor of it; the three girls did the same, as the ray of the flashlight was brighter than all of their phones combined and now, in the face of a blackout, it was probably a good idea to save battery. When the group was ready to leave the kitchen and search for the others, they heard footsteps approaching the kitchen. It was Yui, with a lit candle stand in one hand, who was already looking for them too. She told the teenagers that they were gathering everybody in the dining room again, since staying alone in your room in the complete dark wasn't really save.
On their way to the dining room, Shinichi had to think about what Sera did while they tested their theory about the tomatoes.
Shinichi turned his eyes away from the pitcher and towards the female detective. To his surprise, she wasn't really paying attention to their experiment and just stared at him.
"Sera? Do I have something in my face now?" Shinichi asked.
"The...Wizard..." Sera whispered absentmindedly.
Shinichi wasn't really sure why she behaved that way and why she whispered the words 'The Wizard'. Sure, he did say 'Abracadabra', because he almost felt like one of these stage magicians when he made the tomato magically rise with the salt, but why would she be so shocked by that?
'The Wizard...the wizard...her snaggletooth...Ran mentioned she also remembers her, and always hears rippling waves when she runs off...wait a minute...' Shinichi thought, as a few memories suddenly came back to him.
Seagulls called. Waves rippled. Shinichi could smell the salty seawater.
"You're a wizard, right?" A young girl in a bathing suit asked, smiling broadly, exposing a snaggletooth on the left side of her mouth.
And as quickly as it came, the memory faded from Shinichi's mind. He covered his face with his free hand and groaned. 'That was not enough...why can't I remember more?...that young girl...she has to be Sera, right?...hmm...but that doesn't really tell me anything I didn't already knew...argh, why does my memory have to fail me on this?!...'
"Shinichi? Are you alright?" He heard Ran ask him.
"You were looking like you were in pain..."
"Ah, no, you see..." Shinichi glanced towards Sonoko, Sera and Yui, who were weren't paying them any attention right now, but were still in hearing range. He moved closer to Ran and whispered in her ear. "...I was just thinking about what we talked about in the forest, you know, having met Sera somewhere before. And I just had some sort of flashback, to a situation at a beach, where I met a girl that surely was Sera...but she was very young..."
Ran gasped and looked at Shinichi for a second. He didn't know what to make of her reaction, but she continued, whispering like he did. "Now that you mention that...I think I remember too...a little grinning girl..."
"...in a bathing suit..." Shinichi added.
"...and she said something...'You're-'" Ran continued, but Shinichi interrupted her.
"'You're a wizard, right?'" He finished the quote.
"Yes!" Ran whispered. Then realization hit them both. "So, wait...we both remember that...so that means, we met her both at the same time..."
"It certainly seems that way...there was a beach...so, we met her when we were on a beach trip?"
"Probably. Although that doesn't help me much with remembering specifics, since we went on countless trips together, several of them to a beach..."
"But what about 'The Wizard'...? She muttered those words earlier too...when I jokingly imitated a magician..."
"So...does that mean you are 'The Wizard'? Did she ask you that back then...?"
"Possibly...but I can't quite remember..."
Suddenly, Sonoko's voice interrupted their whispers. "Hey, you two, do you think this is the right time for some lovey-dovey chit-chat?"
Startled, Shinichi and Ran automatically backed away from each other. "What-" The two of them started in unison, but Sonoko was having none of that. She just continued to talk over them, while they entered the dining room.
"I can't believe it! You have had all this beautiful, murderfree time to talk about your relationship today, but no, what time do you choose? After a murder has happened, in a thunderstorm, during a blackout!"
Since they had already entered the dining room, where Tamami, Jinsuke, Sumika and Yui's two colleagues already waited, Shinichi and Ran got some unwanted attention due to Sonoko's rant. With all eyes on them, the two of them couldn't help but to blush a little, even though they didn't do what Sonoko said. Ran nudged her friend in the side. "Sonoko! Knock it off, we weren't..."
"That's what you say everytime! Ran! There is a crazy murderer out there, that Woman in Red...she's still lurking out there and you're just-"
A chair screeched, as Jinsuke stood up. "What makes you say that the Woman in Red is still out there? The police detective told us she's dead!"
"But I saw her!" Sonoko replied, making everyone anxiously look at her.
"S-Sonoko..." Ran stuttered.
"When was that?" Shinichi inquired.
"And where?" Sera added.
"Shortly before the blackout, when we were still in our room. I looked out the window and there she was!" Sonoko pointed a finger to a nearby window. "She leaned against a tree and observed this mansion! A woman with long hair!"
'What the...?' Shinichi thought and looking around the room, everybody seemed to think that as well.
Jinsuke audibly swallowed. "B-but, the police thinks she's dead. Right?" He looked questioningly over to Yui.
"C-could the umbilical cord that was used for the DNA test, belonged to someone else then?" Tamami chimed in.
Yui sighed. "That's impossible. The mother of the Woman in Red didn't want to accept that her daughter was dead. It's why she hid the umbilical cord from the police in the first place. Also, we do have statements from other relatives." Yui put down the candle stand down on the table, where they also had some more lit candles. Apparently, the police officers were more successful in their search for candles. "But, there are a few inconsistencies."
Shinichi raised an eyebrow. "For example?" He asked curiously.
"The raids on the other holiday mansions. We're getting reports about mysterious raids on them at this time of the year, for over ten years now. But they weren't like the harmless pranks, that you guys described earlier." Yui replied. "You know, throwing objects to break windows and stuff. No, on these other incidents, there were indications that the locks were picked and that someone lived in these mansion for a period of time." She thinkingly raised one hand to her chin, recounting the facts. "And there were some statements by people, who said to have seen an unknown person in the forest. That's why the prefectural police couldn't say for sure, that the skeleton in the swamp was the body of the Woman in Red..."
"S-so...she's still out there?" Tamami shyly asked.
"Or if not she herself...than someone else? An imitator? The prankster that did the things to this mansion?" Sumika speculated.
"And what if that person is really coming to get us all?! Or worse, what if its a ghost?!" Jinsuke said, now starting to panic again.
"That's rubbish." Sera's spoke sharply, silencing the three adults at once. "There are neither ghost, nor phantoms in this world. And no witches and no magic either. That's just fantasy and belongs into novels, but it has no place in the reality of our world. Ain't I right, Kudo?"
Shinichi nodded. "Right."
"So, just stay calm!" Sera continued. "Whatever Sonoko saw out there or whoever it was, after all it'll just be a human being, made out of flesh and blood like everybody else. And that is something I can take care of with my jeet kune do and Ran with her karate."
"Y-you're right!" Ran agreed with her friend, shaking off an initial scare at the prospect of a ghost killer.
Now Yui curiously gazed at Sera. "I've been meaning to ask you this earlier. Who are you exactly? You don't seem like an ordinary classmate of Ran-chan and Sonoko-chan, you seem more like Kudo-kun..."
"You're right about that. I'm Masumi Sera and I'm a high school detective as well!" Sera answered.
"She's the little sister of one of our classmates back from our high school days. We invited her and her friends to come here, so she can investigate all of the mysterious incidents that happened in the past few years." Tamami added.
Jinsuke continued. "Her brother didn't have time. But he told us that his little sister just returned from America and was bored anyway."
Yui turned back to Sera again. "From America?"
"Yeah. I lived there for the past three years. I came back recently, since I really missed Japan." Sera turned to Shinichi and looked at him with a smug grin, which left him in confusion.
Yui didn't notice that and focussed back on the situation at hand. "Anyway, now for the bad news. I called our headquarters and they told me that a lightning has hit the transformer station for this region, so everyone around here is currently sitting in the dark as well. The problem is that the ongoing heavy thunderstorm is making it nearly impossible to fix that problem right now." The mood in the room wasn't getting any better with that and Yui had even worse news. "And that's also another problem for us: I wanted to get another squad car here, so we can all leave this place. Headquarters told me that that is impossible right now. The massive downpour has made the already bumpy roads around this area completely unpassable. Additionally, the storm caused a vast amount of trees to fall and further obstruct the roads. And again, with the thunderstorm still raging on, the fire departments and emergency services cannot head out to fix the roads; even if the storm'd be over soon, it'll still take them a while to free route into this area. Bottom line: we're pretty much stuck here for atleast until tomorrow noon."
Nobody said a word for a while, just staring somewhere; everyone silently tried to fathom their situation. Yui broke the silence, to get information about the supplies that were in the villa. Luckily, with the things Jinsuke bought earlier, they had enough food and water to make it through the entire next day, if the rations for every person would be portioned economically. That would still leave without enough for the following day, but nobody seriously thought, that they'd be stuck here for more than one day; or atleast nobody wanted to imagine that.
"Anyway, Sera-san, do you have the photos of the pranks that Sumika-san made with you right now?" Yui asked the female high school detective.
"No, I have them in my bag." Sera replied.
"Alright, I'd like to see them and ask you two..." Yui also pointed at Shinichi now. "...some more question, so we'll head to the guest room where you have left your backpacks." Yui grabbed the candle stand again, before giving instructions to her two colleagues. "You stay here and watch over the others. We'll be back shortly."
The officers nodded in response. Yui headed for the corridor, with Sera and Shinichi, who still had the flashlight with him, in tow. When they were on the corridor, Shinichi turned to Yui.
"Say, why isn't that big, scary inspector with you?" He asked. "What was his name again? Kansuke Yamamoto?"
Yui chuckled. "Ah, no, it's Kansuke Yamato, actually. But I have to admit the names are similar, it's a pretty common mistake that people make. Although, I wouldn't really call him scary..."
Shinichi shrugged. "That's just how Conan-kun described him to me. Big, dark-skinned, one-eyed with a scar and a bit scary."
"Yeah, apparently he left quite the impression on the boy; but he also said that the Inspector is very competent."
"Yeah, that's much pretty much Kan-chan, alright..."
"Kan-chan?" Sera asked curiously, after listening quietly so far.
Yui nearly jumped and seemed a bit flustered. "Ahaha, I-I mean, Inspector Kansuke Yamato...I just call him Kan-chan sometimes, because I've known him for so long..."
'And with sometimes, you mean always, except when you're asked or reprimanded about it...' Shinichi snarked to himself. This was stricly Conan information though, so he couldn't say that comment out loud, even if he wanted to. Instead, he followed up on his first question.
"Anyway, so, why isn't he here? This murder scene is within his jurisdiction and you're in his squad, right?" Shinichi inquired.
Yui nodded. "That's right, but he is currently conducting an important interrogation together with his colleague, Inspector Taka'aki Morofushi. Apparently, that interrogation is directly related to the upcoming press conference about the Woman in Red case tomorrow. From what I heard, Inspector Yamato and Inspector Morofushi have been working on that case for a very long time now."
Shinichi nodded thoughfully, satisfied with her answer.
Yui continued on a different subject. "By the way: when I contacted Inspector Yamato earlier about this case, he told me to take Conan-kun along for every room inspection I was planning to do, but he was surprised and a bit disappointed, when he heard that Ran-chan came without the boy."
Shinichi raised and eyebrow. "Really, he has so much faith in Conan-kun?"
"It certainly seems that way."
Shinichi felt a bit honored. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to him, since Inspector Yamato had already shown signs of wanting Conan's help more than Kogoro's at the Red Wall case, but hearing it this directly that an Inspector advised his subordinate to take Conan with him, made Shinichi a little proud of himself. Even Inspector Megure was always just kind off tolerating Conan; not intervening much when he was on a crime scene, true, but it was almost always just silent, passive approval. Unlike what Inspector Yamato did apparently. For a second, Shinichi was concerned, that the awareness of Conan's intelligence by the Nagano police could potentially be dangerous to be his identity, but he quickly discarded that thought. After all, the FBI also knew how smart he was and he managed to hide his identity from them as well.
"Well, Kudo-kun, atleast you're a worthy replacement for Conan-kun." Yui said.
"From what you shown me so far, you're just as capable as he is and I mean that as a compliment."
Sera patted Shinichi on the shoulder. "Yeah, Kudo is great, just like Conan-kun. I heard, that he taught the boy how to be a detective, ain't that right?" She grinned smugly at him. Somehow, Shinichi didn't quite like that grin.
"Oh, is that so? You taught him everything he knows?" Yui asked.
Shinichi regained some of his composure. "Yep, everything and a little bit more." He winked to emphasize his cheeky comment, prompting another small chuckle from Yui.
The three of them reached the room. With the light provided by Yui and Shinichi, Sera took out the photos from her backpack and handed them over to the police detective. Yui looked through all of the photos, which depicted the incidents over the last few years. "I see." Yui said. "These incidents are kind of bizarre indeed. Smashing a window with red apples, clogging the boiler with red petals, splashing the door with red paint. And now, filling the bathtub with red tomatoes, except this time, there also a dead body alongside the deed. Red, red, red, red; red everywhere. Everything seems to be a reminder about the Woman in Red."
Yui moved one of photos closer to her face. "Wait a minute...this photo looks much older."
Sera glanced over her shoulder to see which photo she was looking at. "Ah, that was taken twelve years ago, around noon of the day when the classmate of the adults went missing." The photo depicted Tamami, Jinsuke, Masaie, Sumika and said classmate, Satoko. Sera pointed to exactly that girl in the middle. "This one. Her name was Satoko Imoto; she's the one that drowned in the swamp when the skeleton of the Woman in Red was found."
Yui raised an eyebrow. "Strange. She's wearing a beige-colored cardigan, right?"
Sera glanced to the photo again and nodded. "Yeah."
"But when she was found, she wore a red raincoat with long sleeves. According to Inspector Yamato atleast."
Sera and Shinichi sharply turned to her. "What...?" They both asked.
Yui continued. "The ones who found the knife in the vacinty on the swamp back then, were indeed Inspector Yamato and Inspector Morofushi, both still in training back then of course. Both of them like to argue about that case at every possible time ever since. Inspector Yamato claims, that the skeleton that was found alongside the body of Satoko wasn't the Woman in Red. Inspector Morofushi on the other hand claims, that the skeleton had to be the Woman in Red by a probability of about 80 to 90 percent. So, when it turned out recently that skeleton was indeed the Woman in Red, Inspector Morofushi wasn't too surprised. Kan-chan still doesn't want to accept that though..."
"Ahem..." Shinichi cleared his throat, prompting Yui to blush again.
"Ah, I mean Inspector Kansuke Yamato doesn't want to accept that, of course. Anyway, the two of them wanted to interrogate the police officer who was the first one on the crime scene, 15 years ago. Apparently, he quit the force and is now working at a pachinko parlor..."
Yui was interrupted by her phone ringing. She took it out of her pocket and looked on the display. "Ah, speaking of the devil..." She accepted the call. "Hello, Kan...erm, Inspector Yamato?...Yes...What, a mistake in the report? Of what kind...Hello?...Kan-chan, hello?" Yui looked at her phone in confusion. "Huh? No service all of a sudden?"
Sera and Shinichi instinctively checked for their phones as well.
"I have no service either." Sera said.
"Same here." Shinichi added.
Yui shook her head and put her phone back into her pocket. "I guess the storm has now also struck the cell phone base stations for this region. It was already a wonder we had such a good connection in this remote area until now, but I guess we're really out of luck. No electricity, no way to get from or to this place, now no cell phone coverage and still an unsolved murder at hand..."
Sera and Shinichi, who were now standing behind Yui, looked at each with a questioning look. They both smirked and nodded, before stepping closer to Yui.
"Well, we can't do anything about the infrastructural problems..." Sera started, making Yui turn around to them.
"...but about the murder case..." Shinichi continued. "We can solve that and present you with the culprit!"
A few things about the adaption aspect of this story: generally, I have raised the stakes with this chapter much more than in the original. In the manga case, the storm isn't this bad; the blackout still occurs, but it doesn't turn into a scenario where the people in the mansion are cut off from civilisation and their phones also still work fine. In the manga case, Yui's call with Inspector Yamato gets interrupted because her battery is empty, which I didn't like too much, so I combined it with the general outage of service.
Additionally, I cut out the attack of the Red Woman, that occurs shortly after the blackout, since it didn't serve much purpose in the manga case after all was said and done; and I wanted to keep a meeting of the Red Woman that observes the mansion with our protagonists for a later chapter and to make that more unique, I didn't want her to directly clash with anyone beforehand.
Chapter 9: The Culprit Revealed; And Shinichi too?!
Yui, Sera and Shinichi entered the dining room. The room was dimly lit by one candle stand on the table and occasionally was brightened by a lightning flash. Around the big dining table, Tamami, Jinsuke, Sumika, Ran and Sonoko were nervously waiting, sitting in the chairs. Yui's two ununiformed colleagues, of which Shinichi still didn't learn the names so far, leaned against the wall in one corner of the room, watching over the potential suspects; their stance told Shinichi that they were just as nervous as the ones sitting around the table.
Entering the room, the three of them drew all of the attention. "Did you figure anything out?" Tamami asked.
"Erm, no, nothing, but..." Yui started, but she was swiftly interrupted.
"So you still don't know who killed Masaie?" Jinsuke hissed.
"N-no, but..." Yui wanted to answer.
"So it really was the ghost of the Woman in Red..." Sumika said in panic, burying her face in her hands.
"Please, if you would just let me..." Yui tried, but she didn't get a chance to finish her sentence.
"But you don't have a better answer now, do you?!" Tamami exclaimed, with a little bit of irratation in her voice.
On one hand, Shinichi liked that Yui tried to be polite, but on the other hand, he knew she wasn't going to get them to shut up anytime soon this way. "We didn't anything in the room right now..." He gave his voice a tone of authority and sharpness, that made everyone stay quiet, even Yui. "...but that doesn't mean we're clueless. You may rest assured that we have figured out who the murderer is."
Short gasps and silence where the sounds that followed Shinichi's statement. Yui looked over to Sera. "Alright, so let me see if I understood the two of you correctly: you say, one of Masaie's three friends is the culprit, right?"
Sera nodded. "Correct."
Yui pulled out her little notebook. "But when Sumika-san, Ran-chan and Sonoko-chan checked the temperature in the bathroom, they didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. When they were done with the cleaning and wanted to take a bath, the tub was suddenly full of tomatoes. On the bottom of the tub, you found the body of the already deceased Masaie-san. So, the crime must've happened while the three of them were still busy with the cleaning. That leaves us with only two possible suspects." Yui looked over to where Jinsuke and Tamami where sitting. "Tamami-san, who was busy preparing dinner and Jinsuke-san, who was supposedly one kilometer away in a grocery store." Yui looked back to Shinichi and Sera. "Didn't you say earlier, that neither of them had done it?"
Sera nodded again. "I did say that. And I still stand by that, because Ran-chan, Sonoko-chan and Sumika-san were cleaning the ground floor during our presumed window of opportunity, and the bathroom, our crime scene, is on the very same floor. I don't think either Tamami-san or Jinsuke-san could've committed a murder on the same floor, without being noticed. Especially since with all the stuff that we found inside the bathtub - the body, the tomatoes and the dumbbells - the culprit most likely had leave and enter the bathroom multiple times; there is no way the three of them wouldn't have noticed that during their cleaning activities."
"So, all three of Masaie's friends couldn't have committed the crime then." Yui concluded.
"Not quite." Shinichi shook his head. "If we assume, that Masaie-san's body was already inside the bathtub when Ran checked the temperature, then the person who cleaned the upper floor on her own, could very well be the culprit. And that person is you,..." Shinichi sharply turned his head to the person he meant. "...Sumika Kawana-san!"
Sumika paled; her eyes widened and she considerably slumped in her chair. Tamami and Jinsuke gasped sharply; they couldn't believe Shinichi's accusation. "S-Sumika? Did you kill Masaie?" Tamami asked her friend, shaken by imagining Sumika to be the culprit.
Jinsuke directed his emotions elsewhere; not to his friend, but to Shinichi. "WHAT ARE YOU EVEN SAYING? THAT'S NONSENSE, EVERY WORD YOU SAID!" His emotion was also less that of shock, but rather that of anger.
Even Sonoko was having her doubts. "We really heard Sumika-san clean the upper floor the whole time! The vacuum was very loud! And we heard it moving too, as she occasionally bumped against the walls."
"The sounds are easily explained." Shinichi answered and gave Sera a little nod. She did the same in reply and went off to the kitchen, to fetch what they needed to demonstrate the trick. "She simply attached Jinsuke-san's baseball bat to one of the supporting columns and glued a piece of cardboard to the front of it, like a wing. After that, she placed the fan we found in the room, behind the column in rotation mode; thus, everytime the fan passed the baseball bat, it would fly off away from the column and then fall back when the fan rotated away again. The sound of the bat falling back and hitting the column, is the sound you heard and thought it was the running vacuum hitting the walls. This is evidenced by the sticky spots, that forensics found on the bat earlier, but couldn't quite tell why they were there. These were the spots, where the piece of cardboard was glued to the bat, most likely with duct tape or something comparable."
Yui nodded. "I see." She turned to the forensics guy. "Well?"
The man shook his head. "No scratches or anything and no luminol reaction. This isn't the thing that the victim was knocked out with. But it is a bit sticky, seems like something was glued to this recently."
"Huh. Educated guess what it was?" Yui asked, but the forensics guy just shrugged. Yui sighed yet again.
"I wonder..." Sera said. "...why is there a fan in the corner, if this mansion has air conditioning?" She was right, there was indeed a fan in the room.
Shinichi continued by turning to his girlfriend. "Ran, when the three of you checked the temperature, was the water already as green and as untransparent as it was later, when we found the body?"
Ran nodded. "Yeah, it was the same both times. I wasn't able to make out the bottom of the tub when we checked the temperature, although to be fair, I didn't pay too close attention to that."
"You saw how deep I had to reach into the bathtub to pull the body out, right? When you checked the temperature, did you reach similarily far into it?"
Ran shook her head. "No, I just put my hand into the water, that was enough to get a feeling for whether the water was too hot."
"So, it was possible that the body was already in the tub and you missed it."
Ran nodded hesitantly. "Yeah, it is...now that I think about, with the water and the steam and everything, it almost feels like it made so I would miss it..."
Shinichi smiled. Ran was following his train of thought quite well, saving him the breath of spelling out that conclusion too, which would have been necessary he figured, looking at the faces of the police forces in the room.
Sonoko wasn't quite convinced however. "A-alright, even if that would be the case, what about the tomatoes. There were non in the bathtub when we checked and afterwards, Sumika-san wouldn't have had the chance to put them in there."
That was Sera's cue. She re-entered the dining room, carrying a water pitcher with her. "These two things don't contradict each other. But the issue with the tomatoes is the same as the issue with the body: just because you didn't see them, doesn't mean they weren't there."
"Huh?" Sonoko asked in confusion.
"You mean...the tomatoes were already in the tub when we checked, just like the body?" Ran asked, catching on to what Sera meant.
The female detective nodded. "Yes, exactly." Sera put the glassy water pitcher onto the table. She fumbled in her pockets, pulling out the tomato from earlier. Sera raised the red object higher for everyone to see. "This is one of the tomatoes from the crime scene, that I secretly took with me..." She earned a disapproving look from Yui for that, making her expression waver for a second, but then she continued like usual. "If you put this one into the water..." Sera said, doing exactly that. Like when Shinichi and Sera tried it in the kitchen, the tomato sank to the bottom of the pitcher.
"Ah, I see." Ran exclaimed. "These tomatoes must have a high sugar level, which makes them sink, in contrary to regular tomatoes which float...why are you looking at me like that, Sonoko?"
"Nothing, nothing." Her best friend, who had shot her a glance, replied. "You just sound like your husband right now..."
Ran waggled with her index finger, correcting her friend. "Boyfriend, Sonoko, not husband. We're not married yet." Sonoko's eyes grew wide, no doubt a wonderful tease already formed in her mind, but Ran quickly continued before her friend had the chance to speak up. "And besides, I know that, because it's a trick traders often demonstrate at vegetable markets. You'd seen something like that too, if you'd bought your food yourself." Ran emphasized her point with a sly grin. It probably sound pretty mean to outsiders, but Ran's little shots at Sonoko's pamperedness were just one of many insiders between them.
"Hmpf, it's not my fault..." Sonoko huffed. "Anyway, now tell me, how exactly did Sumika-san make the tomatoes float up then, Meitantei-chan?"
Since Ran didn't have an answer for that, Shinichi quickly filled in for her. "With salt!" He pulled out a salt shaker, that they had already used during their test. He moved towards the pitcher on the table, while explaining. "Before she joined you in cleaning this floor, she dissolved salt in the bathtub. Enough to make the water turn green, but not enough to make the tomatoes float to the surface yet. Then, she just had to give a little bit more into the water..."
Shinichi carefully shook the salt shaker over the pitcher, dropping as few salt crystals into the water as possible. Quickly, the desired effect started to show; the tomato floated to the surface.
"Ah!" Sonoko, Jinsuke, Yui and the others exclaimed. "It floats!"
Sera nodded. "Sumika-san used bathsalts for her trick of course, since it wouldn't raise any eyebrows that way. She was just pretending to clean the upper floor. In reality, she sneaked up on Masaie-san, while he was cleaning the bathroom; she knocked him out with a dumbbell hit from behind and drowned him in the bathtub afterwards. Then, she weighed down the body with said dumbbells and put all of the tomatoes into the tub. She turned the water green with the bathsalts, so it would impossible to see either the body or the tomatoes. Afterwards, Sumika-san asked Ran-chan and Sonoko-chan to help her with the cleaning. She made the three of you go past the bathroom, so you could testify, that there were no tomatoes there at the time. When you were finished with cleaning, Sumika-san went into the bathroom first and gave just a little bit more of the bathsalts into the tub, making the tomatoes float."
"And this is not just a nice theory of ours." Shinichi continued, holding up his bloody shirt. "This is the shirt I wore, when I pulled Masaie-san out of the bathtub. Notice the crystalline structures, that have formed on the sleeve I reached into the water with? She has the same on her sleeves. When we first met you today, your sleeves were rolled down, but now you've rolled them up. I wonder why?" Shinichi went over to Sumika. "Do I have to forcefully roll them down for you?"
Sumika audibly swallowed; her face had degenerated into a grimace, expressing desperation and, ultimately, resignation. She knew it was over. "That won't be necessary." She slightly shook her head and began to unroll her sleeves, exposing the salt crystals on them. Everyone took a closer look; now, nobody in the room had doubts anymore.
"I had an eye on you, even before you rolled up your sleeves or the murder happened." Sera said.
Sumika looked over to her. "R-really?"
Sera nodded. "Yeah. All of your friends mistakenly thought I was a guy, a common mistake that happens quite often to me. However, you didn't ask any questions when we met you; no 'Who of you is Sera's sister'; no comment on how we were two guys and two girls, nothing; no, you simply went straight over to me and handed me the photos of the strange incidents. Therefore, you already knew I was a female high school detective."
"My guess is, you were the Woman in Red, that Sonoko and Ran saw, when we first made our way to the mansion." Shinichi continued. "And you listened in to our conversation about the case and stuff in general."
Sonoko and Ran were shocked by that part.
"T-that was you, Sumika-san?"
Anger made its way to Sumika's face, mixing into the desperation and resignation from earlier. "Yes! I put on a wig with long hair, wore a red raincoat and red boots, all to change into that cursed Woman in Red. And I did it...I did it to lure out that coward...THAT SIMPLY LEFT SATOKO TO DIE BACK THEN!"
Tamami gasped. "S-s-simply...left her to die?"
"When I asked a policeman a couple of years ago, I figured it all out! When her body was found, she wore a red raincoat!"
Now Jinsuke also chimed in. "Wait a minute! Satoko wore a beige cardigan back then, didn't she?"
Sumika nodded. "Yes, but just like me, Satoko changed into the Woman in Red."
"But wasn't it Satoko who said, that she saw the Woman in Red in the forest back then?" Tamami inquired.
Sumika nodded again. "Right. She told us this, so we would all go into the forest. And then she would pretend to have gotten lost, so she could scare us with her disguise. Thus, she must've had an accomplice, someone, who would lure us to her, with the costume on. I did all of the pranks...with all the red stuff, which was supposed to remind us of the Woman in Red and scare the accomplice enough, so he would blow his cover. But it wasn't enough...but finally, this time with my dress up, it worked. Only the accomplice would think, that Satoko would still roam the forest, when somebody mentions a woman dressed in red..."
"And did she really wear red clothes?" Sumika pressed the subject. Her face grimaced scarily.
"Yes..." Ran said, swallowing hard. She regained some of her composure. "We saw a woman with long hair, dressed in red from head to toe. She wore a red raincoat with matching red boots."
Masaie nervously bit his lip and tried to fight the sudden outburst of sweat that was running down his face with a handkerchief.
Jinsuke stared into the air with his mouth open, swallowing down an imaginary lump. "M-My goodness...don't tell me..."
Suddenly, Masaie slammed down his hands on the table and jolted up. "IT CAN'T BE! SATOKO CAN'T STILL BE ALIVE! IT'S NOT POSSIBLE!" He screamed, slumping visibly after he pushed out these words. His breathing was heavy and irregular and his face was more white than freshly washed sheets. His sweating also intensified.
Tears wallowed up in Sumika's eyes and began to ran down her ghastly face. She didn't make any effort to hide or wipe them away. "Before I...before I killed him...I got him to confess. He told me, that he got scared when Satoko didn't appear on their meeting point in time; because of that, he kept silent. Satoko probably just really got lost in forest and couldn't find the meeting point anymore...had...had he just admitted to us, that it was just planned as a prank, we could have...she could have...Satoko could still be alive, if he had just said something." She sobbed, her tears falling from her face to her clothes and the table.
Shinichi frowned. "Sinning by silence; Masaie was probably guilty of that. Not a very smart thing to do, definitely not a brave thing to do. It's just cowardly." He shot Sumika a pervasive stare. "But then again, all of these things are also true in regards to murdering a friend, just for petty revenge..."
These words did it; Sumika broke down, now audibly crying her eyes out; her whole body slumped, to the point where her body just lay on the table. Yui and her colleagues went over to her, putting her back into a proper seating position and cuffing her.
"Case closed..." Sera whispered, not comfortable with saying her catchphrase out too loud in the current situation. The room was filled with Sumika's sobbing; everybody replayed what just happened in their mind, everybody having their own, probably very divert thoughts about and ways to cope with it.
After a while, Yui stepped towards one of the windows and cleared her throat. "Alright, now that the investigation is over, we'll have to see what we're gonna do. The storm is still going strong outside; it doesn't look like we're gonna get away from here before tomorrow morning. So, here's my suggestion: we'll go to bed and see what the next day brings us. Sumika-san will be taken into one bedroom; we'll cuff her to the bed and we three police detectives will stay in the same room, guarding her. The rest of you will split over the other bedrooms. How does that sound?"
Everybody nodded; some more faintly than others. While the whole group got up to get into bed and just forget about this tragic day, Shinichi couldn't help but think about the Woman in Red again.
'So, Sumika-san really was the woman back when we first were on our way here...but then, we did I feel like somebody was watching me, when Sumika was already in the mansion?' Shinichi thought.
Suddenly, Shinichi felt something cold behind his back; he sharply spinned around, but he didn't see anything suspicious. Shinichi narrowed his eyes, gazing along the treeline; he could've sworn there was somebody out there watching him.
"No, it's nothing...I just felt like somebody was watching me." He said.
Jinsuke waved him off. "It's the density of the trees, makes people paranoid sooner than they can say 'Hallucination'."
'No, that wasn't it. I'm sure somebody was there. My feeling about this kind of thing hasn't been wrong.' Shinichi thought. He turned around and followed the other ones inside. While walking, he threw a last glance over his shoulder, but he didn't spot anyone.
'I was so sure that there was somebody there...was it really just my imagination, or was there someone else out ther-' His thoughts were brutally interrupted, when a gigantic wave of pain overcame his whole body. He felt his heart aching so painfully; his knees gave away and he had to prop his right arm on the table to not fall down to the ground. 'Oh, no! This pain...it can't be...'
"SHINICHI!" Ran's frightened, concerned voice made its way to Shinichi's ears, but he didn't react to it. He looked onto his watch. 'No! My time...the antidote...Haibara warned me about this...'
"Argh!" Another wave of pain rocked through his body; he wasn't able to surpress his scream this time. Shinichi lost his grip on table, but Ran caught him before he hit the ground. She pulled him up and wrapped one arm around his waist and threw his right arm over her shoulder. Shinichi's face turned into a pained grimace; he clutched his shirt in the area of his heart. It was throbbing like crazy.
"Shinichi, what is happening to you?" Ran hastily said, terrified by the state he was in. He had to close one eye out of pain and looked at Ran.
'Ran...no!...she can't find out...not this way...not after what she told me today!...because of Conan, everything between us, our feelings, our relationship, everything is...hindered by Conan...our progess...it is so slow, but yet, somehow, we found a way for there to be progess...I can't...let that small progress of our love be destroyed by Conan now!'
"Ran..." He whispered, unable to speak up anymore.
"Shinichi? Yes?! Talk to me! Please!" The desperation in her voice pained him; he couldn't tell whether it pained him more than the antidote wearing off, because frankly, he didn't have the mental capability for such a comparison right now.
"My...bag..." Shinichi tried to say.
"My...bag...in the bedroom...I need to get there..."
"But Shinichi, maybe you should rest her-" Ran tried to say, but Shinichi used his free hand to desperately cling to Ran's shirt.
"Please! Get me...to that bedroom...I beg you Ran!" He managed to push out through his gritted teeth.
She looked at him consideringly, surprised by his desperate and pained plea, but ultimately Ran complied. She helped him to get to the room with their bags, followed by the equally worried Sonoko, Sera and Yui; meanwhile, the two ununiformed policemen took care of the adults. Shinichi went on as fast as he could; trying to surpress the pain and praying to all gods that he could think off, that the antidote would last just a little while longer. They reached the room. Ran helped Shinichi to sit on the bed. He looked at the faces of the foor women in the room staring at him with worry.
He tried to muster a grin, but it was probably more than crooked. "I...don't...quite need...an audience right now..."
"Oh..." The women nodded in understanding. As soon as they turned around and headed for the door, Shinichi threw himself off the bed and robbed over to his backpack. 'Come on...come on...where is the...AH! There it is!'
With shaking hands, he opened the small box Haibara gave him and hastily swallowed down one of the new twelve hours pills. 'Alright...even if this doesn't work...I can still...just take the regular antidote Haibara also gave me...'
"Shinichi!" He heard Ran's voice say. 'Oh, no, please...'
To his dismay, Ran hadn't left the room with the other three women, she just closed the door behind them. Shocked, Ran now saw him lying on the ground. Atleast she hadn't seen that he took a pill from his backpack. She helped Shinichi back onto the bed, this time in a lying postion, rather than a sitting one. 'No...I have to get...her out of here...' Shinichi thought.
"Ran...could you...get me some water...?" He pleaded.
"Sure..." Ran said and pulled a bottle from her backpack, making Shinichi curse her being always prepared for everything.
"Ah...could you also..." He tried again, but was cut short.
"No! I know what you're trying to do! You want me to go away again, just like in that case on the highway and in that village. Both times, you were in this kind of pain. Well, I don't know what it is, that makes you have this kind of pain and it doesn't seem like you want to tell me, but I know one thing for sure: I won't leave your side this time! No way! So, don't even try to get me away from here!"
'Ran...' Shinichi thought, as his vision blurred. 'Oh, no...' Were his last thoughts, before he passed out.
When Shinichi woke up, he heard sobbing and angry whisper. He fluttered his eyes open; he was a bit disorientated, but atleast the pain was gone. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, when he realized, that his hands were a lot smaller than before. "Oh, no, please, no..." He said, jumping a bit, when he heard Conan's voice come out of his mouth. He slapped his mouth shut with both of his hands in shock.
"Yes..." Ran said. Conan turned around and stared into the faces of Ran, Sera, Sonoko and Yui. 'Oh god, no!' Shinichi thought.
Sera smirked. "I knew it." She pulled out her phone and dialed. "Hey, Aniki...you won't believe what I just witnessed..." Sera said into her phone, walking out the room to have more privacy.
Sonoko just glared at him. "You're the worst Shinichi-kun! How could you have done this Ran?! I'm telling everyone about this!" She spat at him, pulling out her own phone and following Sera to make some calls.
Yui put her finger to her chin. "Uhh, Kan-chan will love to hear about this..." She said and followed the other two girls, leaving in Conan in the room with Ran.
Conan swallowed. "Ran...let me explain..."
She angrily sobbed. "What is there to say? How you shamelessly lived with me, made me worry, perved out on me, made me cry? Do I even want to hear it?!"
"Ran...please...I have a reason for this..."
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT, I HATE YOU!"
"Ran, no, please...listen to me!"
"No! I'm done listening to your lies!"
"Ran...please..." Conan said.
Suddenly, a long-haired woman, dressed in a red raincoat emerged from the hallway, sneaking up on Ran. 'The Woman in Red!' It shot through Conan's mind.
"Ran! Behind you!" Conan exclaimed.
"Tsk, I'm not falling for that!"
"No, really, turn around, there is the-"
"I told you, I won't fall for that trick!" Ran hissed at him, when the Woman in Red behind her raised her arm and stabbed Ran through the chest with her knife. Ran's body stiffened in pain, blood starting to drip out of her mouth. "Shin...ichi..."
Shinichi jolted up and extended his arms to catch Ran, but there was nothing to catch in front of him. He stared at a wall, panting heavily. It wasn't until then, that he noticed, that his arms weren't short and his hands weren't tiny. Shinichi hastily felt over his upper body and his face with his hands; everything was teenager sized. Still a bit dumbstruck, he clenched fist before his eyes and relaxed them again, just to make sure they were really his own hands.
"Shinichi?!" Suddenly, Ran barged in through the door. She carried a damp towel with her and still looked extremely terrified. When she saw Shinichi sitting upright and relatively well, Ran closed the door again and went over to the bed he now sat on. "You're awake, that's good." She sat down on a chair besides the bed and put one hand on his forehand. "Wow, you're temperature is normal again already!"
"Ran..." Shinichi said, trying to calm his breathing. "What happened? I just remember my vision suddenly getting blurry, after you declared to stay with me no matter what..."
"Well..." Ran said, with a slight blush on her face. "You passed out, so I rested you down onto the bed. You were tossing and turning a bit while you were unconscious. After a while, you stopped that, but still sweated heavily and when I felt your temperature, you were burning up! So..." She held up the towel in her hands "...I went to fetch you a cold towel from the bathroom. I was there when I heard you screaming my name, after which I came running here. Take this..." She handed him the towel. "...even though you feel normal again, it won't hurt to calm yourself with this."
Shinichi took the damp towel out of her hands, wiping some of his sweat away, before resting it on his forehead, enjoying the coolness it provided. "How long was I out?"
Ran looked onto her phone. "I don't quite know...twenty minutes, I guess? Maybe half an hour, tops."
"I see." Shinichi ran his hands over his face.
"Huh?" Shinichi looked back to Ran.
"Why were you screaming my name...? It doesn't look like you're in pain...or like you really needed something." She said.
"Oh..." Shinichi hesitated. Her words from his dream came back to his mind. I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT, I HATE YOU!
He inwardly shuddered. Shinichi couldn't quite tell her the truth, but he didn't want to give her a standard Ah, no, it was nothing, haha...
"Come over here, please." Shinichi patted on a spot on the bed beside him. Ran looked a bit confused, but did as he said when she looked him in the eyes again. He put his hand on the one she rested on the bed besides him, slowing entwining their fingers and getting a firm grasp on it.
"It may seem a bit...childish, sappy, I don't know...so please, don't laugh about it..." He started.
Ran frowned. "I wouldn't laugh about your feelings, you know that..."
"Yes, yes, sure I do, but even I realize that...that this may seem a bit out of character for me, so, somehow, I want to laugh at myself for it..."
"What are you saying...?"
"The reason, I cried out your name, Ran, is because of the dream I had. In my dream you...you were killed...stabbed by the Woman in Red..." Ran gasped and covered her mouth with one hand, while he continued. "And I just couldn't do anything about it...I couldn't save you, couldn't prevent your death...only thing I really could do was cry out your name...and that's when I woke up..." So far, he had stared ahead, not facing Ran. Now, he turned his gaze over to her; his eyes were surprisingly gleamy. This didn't just surprise him, Shinichi himself also didn't expect to get so emotional over that dream all of a sudden. "You could say, that...that this was probably my worst nightmare and still is when I think about it..."
"But it's silly, I know! The woman isn't really out there, there is no ghost out there roaming the forest, looking for victims...I don't know why I let myself get so influenced by all the stuff I heard today..."
"Don't say stuff like that..."
"Shinichi. I already told you earlier, that your words weren't stupid; the same is true for feelings and dreams like this, they aren't silly. Just because you usually don't get this emotional, and even if you do, you don't show it to other people, that...that doesn't mean that it isn't, or rather shouldn't be, a part of you. And don't think for a second, that I would think any less of you or laugh at you because of it...I love you for everything that you are; you don't always have to be the cool, tough and aloof detective for me; from time to time, it's okay to let your other emotions run free. Your more sensitive side, that fears that you'll lose me and that made you say these words to me in London, that side is not a weakness or a flaw. Don't ever think that, please..."
"Ran..." Shinichi flung his arms around his girlfriend and hugged her as tightly as he could. He was a bit overzealous and his whole body was still tense; he gritted his teeth and shut his eyes, being probably the closest to crying because of emotional reasons he's ever been.
"Shinichi..." Ran felt that his hug was too tight for comfort, but she didn't waggle out of it or tried to push him away. Instead, she gently stroked his back, until she felt his body relax. With the tension slowly leaving his body, the hug became much more comfortable and she wrapped her arms around his back.
"Ran...I love you so much, you probably can't imagine how much...because I haven't been able to show you..." He said, while they were still embracing each other.
"I don't have to imagine it, Shinichi. Like I said, you don't have always have to show it that much, because I feel it, because I know how much you do...because it's the same for me..." She softly whispered into his ear. They enjoyed their closeness for another moment, before they parted. "That's not the only thing, in which I feel the same as you though..."
The towel had fallen off from his forehead during their hug, so Ran picked it up and gently swiped away the last bit of sweat from his nightmare and pain attack away from his face. "You had that nightmare, because you worry about me...and it's not the first time that your worry shows. During the case with the missing company owner, you yelled at the emergency service all the time until they got to me...you were also worried back then, right?"
Shinchi slightly blushed. "Yeah...to be honest, I can't even remember what I said to the man on the other side of the emergency hotline anymore, because I was so completely in panic that you might get hurt or...worse, that I just ranted on and on and...ah, everything was such a rush during that situation..."
"Then you understand, that I'm also worrying about you. Quite a bit, actually. You're always away on that-..."
Shinichi bit his lip. "Ran...I can't..."
Ran interrupted him. "It's fine, you don't have to tell me, if the case is too dangerous for me to know, about the details or where you're staying all the time..." Shinichi swallowed hard. Did she even know how close to the truth she came with her thoughts? "...I understand that. But...everytime I see you, you're not well...you keep having these heart attack like seizures...during that case with the diplomat, in that village, on the highway shortly afterwards...and you fainted after our school play too. And now today, another one. Shinichi, I can understand you being away so much because of that case; really, I do, but...I can't understand that you're neglecting your health so much. Have you even seen a doctor about this?"
"Y-yes..." Shinichi said. Time for another cursed game of telling half-truths. "I've consulted an expert about it..." Alright, not a complete lie, Haibara really was an expert for his condition. "It's...not something that has a simple cure...it's just a temporary problem with my circulatory system, which occurs...very irregularly. Most of the time, it doesn't even have a trigger, like dehydration or something, although that could play a role..."
Argh, this wasn't going well. Shinichi gently put his hands on her cheeks and leaned in until their foreheads touched; their faces were now very close to each other - causing them both to blush - and Shinichi looked Ran straight in the eyes.
"Listen, it's not as bad as it sounds...it may seem worse to you, because it's just my bad luck, that it almost always happens when I get the rare chance to be with you...normally, I'm fine; this is not something that happens to me twice a day or something, alright? I'll continue to see that expert for a solution, but still, it's really nothing that deserves a higher amount of concern by you...I'm fine now, am I not?"
"Yes...but you really have to promise me, that you look after your health. You tend to forget that when you're engulfed in cases. So, please, promise me that, not only with your...special condition, but in regards to your health in general!"
Shinichi smiled. "Yes, I promise."
They remained in that pose for some moments, before both of them realized, just how close their faces were. All Shinichi would have to do to reach her lips, would be to slightly tilt his head and lean in just a little bit further.
Shinichi slightly tilted his head and leaned in a little bit further. Reaching her lips, they both fluttered their eyes shut and kissed. Both for the first time and both with the only one they ever dreamed of kissing. Naturally, it was a very shy and almost amateurish kiss, but for them, it was simply perfect. After a while they parted, giving in to the need of air. Shinichi still had his hands on her cheeks, while Ran rested her hands on his chest. Utmost gaudy smiles were plastered on both of their faces and it didn't seem like those were coming off any time soon.
"I love you..."
"I love you too..."
Just as they wanted to lean in for their second kiss, they heard a knock the door. "Shinichi-kun? Ran?" It was Sonoko's voice. Of course.
As they heard that Sonoko was about to open the door to their room, they instinctively distanced from each other; although, it wasn't quite as rapid as usual, almost as if their bodies didn't really want to put distance in between them. Sonoko entered their room, with Sera in tow. A smug grin made its way to the heiress' face. Shinichi and Ran were just sitting on the bed together; that alone would've been enough reason for Sonoko to tease away, but they were also blushing even more than usual and looked somewhat enchanted and happy.
"My, my, did we disturb you two?" Sonoko chirped.
Shinichi and Ran narrowed their eyes on her.
"Yes." Shinichi said.
"Yes." Ran said.
That took Sonoko by surprise; a confirmation, spoken in almost perfect unison no less, was the last thing she expected. She recovered quickly however. "Well, sorry for that then, Ran. We just heard Shinichi-kun yell really loud for you, his girlfriend by own admission, and so we wanted to check if he feels any better." Another smirk came to her face. "Looks like you recovered rather quickly."
"Yeah, thanks...I'm a lot better now, no need to worry anymore..."
Sera wasn't convinced. "But you seemed to be in a lot of pain, how did that go away so quickly?"
"Ah, well...you see..." Shinichi stuttered.
"He was just being careless again." Ran filled in for him.
"Huh? How so?" Sera wondered; and Shinichi too, silently.
"Simple: he forget to take care of his health. Dehydration and exhaustion caused this, because he couldn't take his mind of this case."
Sera did a small head tilt, still mustering Shinichi. "Huh, is that so...but still, the pain seemed to be much bigger than a simple-"
"It's not the first time either." Ran interrupted her. "This happened to him before; it's almost like his body was satisfied with the small hints that he should take a break and instead brought out the big guns."
Shinichi shrugged and pouted a little bit. "It's not completely my fault! These case don't solve themselves, you know?" But he was quite thankful that she helped him out with this one, as the girls were more likely to believe her, especially when she also gave him some criticism. That this also gave Ran the opportunity to repeat her previous concerns, was something Shinichi could get over.
Sonoko clapped her hands. "Anyway, now that you're better, we should all get some rest. Sera-san and I also wanted to fetch our backpacks from here." Sonoko proceeded to hand Sera her backpack and picked up her own. "Well, seeing as this room only has space for two people at best, Sera-san and I will leave you two alone now."
"Ehh?!" Shinichi and Ran exclaimed, provoking another grin from Sonoko.
"What did you expect? This mansion doesn't have enough rooms for everyone to get their own. Sumika-san, Yui-san and her colleagues occupy one room, packed like sardines mind you, Jinsuke-san and Tamami-san share another room, which leaves us four with two rooms for two persons each. So, you two take this one, while Sera-san and I will take the other. Any objections?"
Shinichi and Ran were left speechless, as they both were taken aback by the thought of sleeping next to each other, after, well...kissing, confessing and other love stuff. Sera, who apparently also didn't learn of that room distribution until now, had some words however. "W-wait, Sonoko-chan, is that really alright?! Pairing up a boy and girl like that? I don't think our school would allow that on a field trip..."
"Nonsense!" Sonoko hissed at the tomboyish girl. "We're not on a school trip, so there's no need to follow their outdated rules. Besides, these two have already been sleeping close to each other in preschool, I doubt anything could go wrong." Sonoko added a mischievious wink to the last sentence. She absolutely expected something to happen between them; not that something went wrong, but rather that something, well...happened between them. And in Sonoko's mind that something, whatever that might be, would be positve.
Sera looked like she desperately searched for another argument against that. Why was she so passionate about preventing Shinichi and Ran spending a night together in one bedroom, in the same bed, to be more precise? "B-but..."
"No buts! We have to get going now." Sonoko declared and grabbed Sera's wrist. She basically dragged the poor, female detective out of the room. "Nighty night, you two." Sonoko chirped at Ran and Shinichi, waving one of her hands, before closing the door.
"Wa-wait, Sonoko-chan..." They could hear Sera protest through the closed door, but she was out of hearing range very fast, indicating that Sonoko was very adamant about dragging her friend to their own room.
Meanwhile, Shinichi and Ran were still kinda trapped inside their imagination; that they both got a good impression of each others upper body earlier, didn't really help. Shinichi decided to break the silence, by clearing his throat and speaking up.
"Well, I mean...Sonoko is not wrong, it wouldn't be the first time we slept next to each other..."
"Y-yeah...we slept pretty closely on the flights to Los Angeles, New York and the flight back to Tokyo...that was fine..."
'If by fine you mean that I couldn't sleep for a long time, because you resting your head on my shoulder made my heart flutter so much, then this is going to be a loooong night...' Shinichi thought. 'Ah, and that time in the mountain villa as Conan wasn't much better...'
Ran interrupted his thoughts. "So...should we just get ready to go to sleep?"
"Ah...yeah, sure." Shinichi answered. Considering that the candle stand that Yui brought to this room earlier and the occasional lightnings were the only source of light, Shinichi suggested that they should just blow out the candles and change into their pyjamas in the dark, with their backs turned to each other. Ran agreed, blushing just as much as he did when he described the details of how they should position themselves while changing.
'Good thing we were prepared for a longer trip already, otherwise we would have to sleep in our street clothes or worse...just underwear...' Shinichi shook his head, trying to get these thoughts out of his mind (for now) by concentrating very hard on putting on his pyjama top; then, he remembered another thing.
"Are you...still uncomfortable with sleeping during thunderstorms?"
"What? I-I'm uncomfortable with-..."
"Thirteen years, Ran, thirteen."
"Well, I might...still get a bit jumpy now and then...so, it could happen that I...come closer to you, just out of reflex..."
"T-that's fine...do that if you like...no need to hold back..."
"O-okay...that's...good to know..."
"Are finished with changing, Ran?"
"Yep. Alright..." Shinichi turned around and headed for the bed, deciding that they should just get this over with and go to sleep. He went ahead and crawled under the blanket, robbing over to the left side of the bed, leaving enough space on the bed for Ran. She stood before the bed, still a bit hesitant. Some might call it cute, how shy they still were about this kind of thing, even after the aforementioned thirteen years of knowing each other AND finally admitting their feelings AND getting a bit physical already.
"Come on, Ran, I don't bite...we should get some sleep after this exhausting day..."
Ran nodded. "Yeah..." She agreed and shyly crawled under the blanket as well. The rain was still pouring and the wind still wailed. Ran and Shinichi closed their eyes and wanted to drift off to sleep. However, after a short while, a particular loud clap of thunder and a lightning really did make Ran jump; she instinctively edged closer to Shinichi and grabbed his arm.
Shinichi sighed. "I told you, it's fine. Just don't worry and get some rest."
"Yeah, yeah...I know..."
He spoke relatively easy, but inside, Shinichi's heart was throbbing like crazy.
"Good night, Ran."
"Good night, Shinichi."
About an hour later, both Ran and Shinichi were looking like they were asleep. However, only one of them actually was, because Ran was just pretending. When she was really sure, that Shinichi was completely asleep, she opened her eyes again.
"Shinichi?" Ran softly called out, loud enough for him to notice if he were awake, but not loud enough to wake him up if he was really asleep. When he didn't react, she gently poked his side, but Shinichi still didn't show any sign of being awake.
Ran carefully lifted up his pyjama top, exposing his abdomen and showing off a relatively small scar; the result of being shot as Conan.
Her lips curled up to a small smile. 'I knew it.' Ran thought. She gently traced over the scar; her touch caused Shinichi to let out a small moan of pleasure. Ran giggled and pulled his top back down; after that, she softly tugged his arm, which made Shinichi instinctively put his arm around her. Ran rested her head on his chest and looked up to his face; she smiled again and placed a small kiss on his cheek, before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep, trying very hard to do so, even though her heart was fluttering like crazy.
Yeah, yeah, it was a dream. Of course it was dream, I don't think I could seriously kill off Ran in this kind of way.
Anyway, enough about the last chapter and more about this. Like the last one, not everything went as I originally planned; I didn't plan for this chapter to be completely about Shinichi and Ran, it just happened during the writing process. The plan was, to have all of the contents of the next chapter already happening in this one and then only having the epilogue after that. But, when I wrote out all this stuff and came to the point, where the ShinRan stuff ended and the other events planned for this chapter happened, it just didn't feel right to mix and this felt like a good point to end it. I was a bit bummed, that with my previous planning, the Ran scar scene would take place in the middle of a chapter, rather than at the end of one, but with how it turned out in the end, it all went for the best.
Whew, lots of rambling about my writing process in this one. Anyway, bottom line: I ended up writing so much ShinRan stuff, that I gave it its own chapter, making this fic last just a little bit longer.
Outside, the Woman in Red was shaking. Not because of the cold, the rain or the wind, no, not because of these things. The reason were the things she just saw. The same teenagers she spotted through one of the windows earlier. Back then, the dark haired girl with the unique haircut dressed the boy, she buttoned up his shirt and now, they were being so close to each other, kissing and going to bed, presumably to go even further, to get physical. The Woman tightened her grip around the knife she carried with her.
'That intimacy...the love...just...it's just like 15 years ago...' Images of that time flashed back to her mind.
"Oh, Takeno-san, it's so wonderful here!" She exclaimed.
"I knew you'd like it here. It's so peaceful and quiet...and away from all the trouble..."
She grabbed his collar. "Please...kiss me...take me!"
"Oh my, Shinobu, I didn't know you were that naughty..." He said, smiling.
They sank to the ground, when the door was kicked open.
"I KNEW IT!"
"What the...Komayo! No, wait, I can explain this..."
"Don't think you can fool me! I never should've trusted you!"
"Komayo, put that knife away, no, please, don't...!"
Afterwards, only blood, only red. Red everywhere, drowning out every other color.
The Woman in Red tried to shake off the memories, but they always came back to her. She bit her lip until she drew blood, calming her a bit. She stopped shaking and raised the knife.
'No...I wasn't able to kill that bitch in red today...and now this...no...no, they can't have what was taken away from me...they have no right...they don't deserve this romance, they must suffer like I had to...these two teenagers have to die!'
Meanwhile, a 4x4 police vehicle made its way towards the mansion. It didn't go very fast, because the bumpy road, that got even worse with the massive downpour, presentend a challenge for even the toughest of vehicles. Inside the 4x4, the two Nagano prefectural police inspectors Kansuke Yamato and Taka'aki 'Komei' Morofushi were talking to their chief by police radio, as the cellphone coverage was still down for this region.
"Alright, Yamato, now tell me: why are you two driving out there to a holiday villa, during the thunderstorm of the century no less?"
"Sir, the interrogation that Inspector Morofushi and I conducted earlier gave us reason to believe that activities in regards to the Red Woman Case are happening out there." Kansuke said, trying hard to be respectful, while driving on a road in very bad condition. He wanted to curse, but directing his anger at his chief seemed like a bad idea, even for the hot headed Kansuke.
"The Red Woman Case?" The chief wondered. "I thought you were just checking some minor details, so that the journalists can't clobber us during the press conference tomorrow. And now you're telling me, that you have reasons to believe that there are activities going on related to that case? Didn't we want to announce tomorrow, that the case was really already finished 15 years ago and that our assumption, that the Red Woman was still out there roaming the forest, was false? What could the man you interrogated possibly have said, to give you these kind of suspicions?"
The vehicle hit a deep pothole, making it jump a little. Kansuke couldn't surpress a curse this time; Morofushi noticed this and answered the chief in his stead. "Sir, the man we interrogated was the police officer, who discovered the murder 15 years ago. After a while, we got him to confess that he made an intentionally wrong report of the events of that day."
"What?!" The chief hissed.
"Yes, that was our first reaction as well. The police officer reported, that the Woman in Red tried to attack him back then and fled afterwards. However, the truth is, that the Woman threw the knife at him, causing him to trip and thus being unable to prevent her escape. We were suspicious of his report, because they weren't able to find the knife in the forest until 3 years later, when another girl went missing in the forest, the same incident where they discovered the skeleton of the Woman in Red in the swamp. We know now, that that skeleton really belongs to the Woman in Red, but we were asking ourselves, how it was possible that the knife was only found then and not during the search after the initial murder. Now we have our answer."
"But wait..." The chief said. "...if the Woman in Red threw the knife away in the mansion where she murdered her cheating husband, who picked it up and lost it in the forest three years later...? Don't tell me..."
"Yes." Kansuke said. "We think that the woman the first victim had an affair with, picked it up and is still roaming the forest, looking for vengeance. The murder was a terrifying sight; it made the officer who stumbled upon it lie in his official report and made him quit the force not too much later. It is quite possible, that the Woman who is now roaming the forest, has be traumatized even heavier; she might be completely mad."
"One has to be mad, to live out here in the forest like a tribal man..." Morofushi muttered under his breath, looking out the car window into the dark forest.
The chief didn't pick up on that comment. "Alright, so you suspect that the affair of the murder victim is the one who is roaming the forest, but why drive there now? You could conduct another search in the morning, with daylight, less rain and all."
"Sir, Detective Uehara is currently out there in one of these holiday mansions." Morofushi said. "There was another murder case out there. It appears that the people involved have connections to the Red Woman Case. We couldn't tell Detective Uehara that there is still someone dangerous roaming the forest, because the coverage went down. She and the detectives with her are completely unprepared for a sudden attack of that woman. Inspector Yamato and I are very concerned for the safety of our colleagues and the other people in that mansion."
"I see. Well, I still think it would much safer to wait until morning. The emergency services have only gotten so far with clearing the roads, if you two get stuck now or encounter another fallen tree, you might not be able to proceed any further and have to be rescued yourself." The chief replied.
"With all due respect, Sir, that's still MY call." Kansuke spat. "Detective Uehara is in my squad, I have the responsibility for her as her superior officer. It's bad enough, that it is only the two of us driving there! Atleast one squad car full of uniformed officers would be necessary to properly solve this...situation."
The chief chuckled in a threatening manner. "Don't be ridiculous, Yamato. You're not even sure if there is actually a situation going on there." The fake hint of amusement disappeared from his voice. "Besides, there is nothing I could do to send uniformed forces with you. Maybe you forgot that we have state of emergency due to a natural disaster at hand and even as chief of the first division of the criminal police, I don't really have room to negotiate or argue against the demands of the fire department and emergency services, not for just some suspicion of yours atleast. You two deal with whatever is going on out there alone or wait until tomorrow when the general situation is under control again. Your call, indeed. Kuroda out."
A crackle and some rustling signaled to Kansuke and Morofushi that their chief had cut the connection. Morofushi also flicked one switch, turning off their radio. A moment of silence passed, as Kansuke still focussed on the road.
"What do you think? About the chief?" Morofushi said.
"What do you mean, what about the chief?" Kansuke said, still looking on the road ahead.
"What do you think about his return? After his long coma?"
"Hmpf...what am I supposed to think about it?"
"I...I don't know..."
"Yeah...that's about right..."
"I mean, I don't know what to think about his return, honestly. Something...seems off..."
Morofushi raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Kansuke groaned. "Look, Komei, this road isn't easy to navigate, can we talk about the chief tomorrow and focus on what's in front of us? Literally..."
"Yeah, sure. This seems really important to you..."
"Hmpf, of course it is. It's an important case, we've been working on it for so long now, I don't want anything to go wrong now. Not after we finally were about to close that chapter of our career..."
"Oh, yeah, but I meant something else..." Morofushi grinned. "You seemed really adamant about getting to our dear Yui..."
"Shut up. As I told the chief, I am responsible for Uehara; this is purely professional!"
"Of course, that's why you were determined like a mad men to get out there tonight, even with this big risk of us getting stuck."
Kansuke felt his anger rising up. His old friend was really ticking him off. "Oi, Komei, I told you that this isn't without risk, but you decided to come along anyway, you knew the risk. Now shut up, I need to concentrate."
"As you wish..." Morofushi suavely said, leaning back into his seat. As much as Kansuke didn't want to admit it, what he felt was more than professional responsibility for his police subordinate. She was a long time friend of his and getting her back into the police force was secretly one of his happiest days recently. Emphasis on secretly; he wouldn't admit that to anyone, of course.
'Yui...be safe!' Kansuke thought, while taking a difficult turn.
After what felt like an eternity, Kansuke and Morofushi finally reached the holiday mansion, Yui had reported to have a case in. The mansion was completely dark, which was about to be expected, since the power grid for this region was quite affected by the thunderstorm. Kansuke thanked the heavens that they didn't get stuck or encountered another uprooted tree.
Hasitly parking the vehicle in front of the mansion, Kansuke got out of the car as fast as he could, which wasn't easy because his leg was still injured and he had to use a crutch. They threw over their police issued rain capes; they still got pretty wet, but Kansuke had other things in mind. He limped over to the red colored front door and started banging at it. "OI! UEHARA, ARE YOU THERE?! ANSWER THE DOOR!" He shouted against the storm. "OIII! UEHARA! ANSWER ME!"
"Maybe they solved the case and made their way back before the storm got too bad?" Morofushi asked.
"IDIOT! Their squad car is still here, look there!" Kansuke pointed to the car.
"Calm down, it was hard to see in the dark..."
"I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! I'M BUSTING DOWN THIS DOOR NOW!" Kansuke screamed and already got himself into position to ram the door, when the two of them heard a voice from the other side of the door.
"Kan-chan? Is that you?" It was Yui's voice.
"Yes, Yui it's me! Open up!"
The heard the clicking of a key turning inside a lock and a moment later the door opened. Kansuke and Morofushi wanted to head inside, but someone shined them in the eyes with flashlights. "Ahh, so bright..." Kansuke mumbled, raising one hand before his face to shield his eye.
"Kan-chan, it's really you. Oh, and Inspector Morofushi too! Come in." Yui said. She lowered the flashlight, allowing the two inspectors to see. Yui stood in the hallway, two teenage girls, a dark-skinned man, a woman with dark hair and an ununiformed police officer were behind her. Yui lead them all to the dining room, providing light with several candle stands. She ordered her ununiformed colleague to head back to the room where Sumika was kept cuffed to a bed, to assist their other colleague in watching over her. After that, Yui reported to Kansuke and Morofushi about the case here, who the culprit was and how she did it. She also introduced the two inspectors to Sera, Sonoko, Tamami and Jinsuke. Someone felt off to Yui, like she forgot something, but the sudden appearance of her senior colleagues made her not pursuing that feeling.
"Anyway, Kan-chan, what brings the two of you here during the middle of a thunderstorm? That was pretty dangerous, wasn't it?" Yui asked.
"As a matter of fact, yes. Yes, it was. But there has been development in the case we're pursuing, and that has a relation to you and this mansion." Morofushi said.
"Yeah, Komei's right. You know that we interrogated that police officer from 15 years ago, yeah? He told us, that he misreported something about that incident back then, because of his own trauma. The Woman in Red, she didn't chase him off, she threw her knife at him, causing him to trip and making him unable to pursue." Kansuke explained.
"W-wait a minute!" Yui exclaimed. "Does that mean...?"
Sera nodded grimly. "Yeah, that's the only logical explanation then..."
Sonoko, Jinsuke and Tamami looked at the police officers and the high school detectives questioningly. "Erm, sorry to ask this..." Sonoko said. "But...we can't quite follow your minds..."
Kansuke groaned. "Alright, I'll spell it out for you. Listen carefully, we all need to be on the same level to understand the situation we're in correctly. You listening?"
The three unknowing people nodded.
Kansuke took a deep breath. "Okay, so...this whole thing starts 15 years ago. The businessman Takeno-san is cheating on his wife. He brings his affair up here, to a holiday mansion just like this one; they want to enjoy their time together here. However, his wife, Komayo Takeno, finds out about it and follows them to the mansion. When she sees the two of them getting down to business, she goes into rage and kills her husband with a large kitchen knife. When a nearby officer hears the commotion, he enters the mansion and sees Komayo Takeno, with her white coat being turned into a completely red one, due to all the blood. This earned Komayo Takeno the nickname 'Woman in Red'.
Three years later, so twelve years ago from today, Jinsuke-san and his group comes into these woods. From what you told me right now, about the case that occured here today and about the relationships between you, I understand, that your friend Satoko wanted to play a prank on you and dressed up as the Woman in Red and got lost in the forest, only to later be found dead in a swamp. In the same swamp, we found the skeleton of the original Woman in Red, Komayo Takeno, who apparently died 15 years ago, on the same day as she committed her horrible deed. Beside the swamp, we found the knife, which she used to kill her husband. After the death of Komayo Takeno's mother recently, we were able to confirm, that the skeleton indeed was that of the original Woman in Red.
So far, so good. Now, here's where things get a bit messy. You see, I was wondering: if Komayo Takeno died at the same day, she committed the murder, why didn't we find the knife during our initial search of the forest? Why did we only find it three years later, when Satoko died? That's why we interrogated the officer who witnessed the original murder. And then he spilled it: he reported, that the Woman in Red attacked him and fled into the woods. But the truth was, that she threw the knife at him, leaving him unable to pursue because he fell and because of the shock. Komayo Takeno ran into the woods without the knife and died in the swamp, on that exact same day. Now how did the knife get to swamp then, where we found it three years later?
The only possible answer is: the woman, with whom Komayo Takeno's husband had an affair, picked it up. She was the only one with the opportunity to do so. Her name is Shinobu Kagawa and she's the one still roaming this forest. The reports about mansions, where someone broke in and lived in it, are the result of her survival tactic here in the forest. She doesn't know that the original woman is dead. Most likely, she roams these woods, still on the search for the one who killed the man she loved. Because she doesn't know and probably because of madness, she attacked Satoko three years later and chased her into the swamp. That's why we found the knife then, she lost it while she saw Satoko drown in the swamp. She chased her, because Satoko was dressed up like the Woman in Red, like Komayo Takeno.
And now today, you said, that the culprit of your murder case here, Sumika Kawana, dressed up as the Woman in Red, to provoke Satoko's accomplice into blowing his cover. If Shinobu Kagawa saw that, she may strike here, at this mansion and try to kill her, just like she tried to kill Satoko twelve years ago."
Kansuke inhaled deeply and threw head back, clearing his throat. "Alright, everybody got that?" His question earned him various nods. "Good, good. Now, you said Sumika was cuffed to a bed in of the guest rooms here?"
Yui nodded. "Yeah, the best form of custody we have right now. But don't worry for her, two armed officers are with her. A woman, who lived here in the forest for 15 years can't fight against that, not with just a knife, if she even got one as a replacement for the one she lost."
Morofushi waggled his finger. "I wouldn't underestimate a mad person in rage. The adrenaline rush can multiply her strenght massively and she might have higher pain tolerance. Even two armed men shouldn't let their guards down."
"You're right, but still..." Yui said. "These two are trained officers. They know what to do."
"One more thing." Sonoko said. "If I really didn't imagine things and that shadow of a person I saw through a window earlier was really this Shinobu Kagawa, why did she wear completely red too? Shouldn't she hate that color, if she wants to kill the Woman in Red?"
Kansuke shrugged. "Who knows? As I said, she's probably gone completely insane from witnessing such a horrible crime, not to speak of the damage that 15 years of isolation out here have done to her mind. Maybe she wanted to become what she hated, because she was the reason for the murder in the first place, so she hated herself or whatever...look, these are things the shrinks can deal with, once we lock this woman up, alright?"
Sonoko nodded, closing down that subject. Morofushi rested his head onto his folded hands. "Alright, let's wait for the rain to stop and stay safe here in the dining room. When we're all gathered here, the threat becomes basically non-existant. Sleeping may be a bit more uncomfortable, but one night should be worth the safety. Detective Yui, would you be so friendly to fetch your culprit and your two officers? We can keep this Sumika person in custody in this room just as well."
Yui nodded and went into the corridor to her colleagues. Morofushi yawned. "Well, well, once everyone is gathered up here, we can finally relax a bit."
Kansuke, who had closed his eye for a little while, threw it wide open and slammed his hands down onto the table. "Wait a minute?! Everyone? Didn't Yu-...Uehara say that the daughter of that dimwitted private detective was here as well? You two girls! You're her classmates, right? Where is she?!"
"Huh, what do you mean...Oh!" Sonoko and Sera looked around, when they realized something. Shinichi and Ran weren't in the room. Everyone had gotten out of bed when Kansuke banged against the door. They apparently didn't. "Mabye they didn't hear and are still sleeping?" Sera asked.
"Heh, sleeping...I bet these two did other things that got them all exhausted..." Sonoko said teasingly, completely missing the mood of the situation.
"GET YOUR MIND STRAIGHT!" Sera screamed. "Don't even think about such things, let alone tell me of all people about it, that's just not right...anyway, we have to get them, it's not safe...!" Sera grabbed Sonoko's arm and dragged her to the room where Ran and Shinichi were sleeping in.
Kansuke sighed and looked at Morofushi. "High school girls..." He said, earning him a small grin from his old friend.
"Ow! Don't pull so hard." Sonoko hissed. "No need to be so harsh..." She rubbed her arm.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry..." Sera said and knocked on the door. "Hey, Kudo, Ran-chan, are you awake? Hey, wakey, wakey..." She knocked a few more times, but received no answer, not even a quiet rustling of blankets or anything. The only sound they heard was the rain and the storm, which for some reason was audibly louder than anywhere else in the mansion.
"Maybe they don't want to disturbed during their honeymoon?" Sonoko asked.
"STOP IT! That's not funny...!" Sera screeched.
Sonoko tilted her head and looked at the female detective. "Are you alright, Sera-san? You're acting kinda strange..."
Sera stared back at Sonoko, before she hesitantly nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine, it's just...I don't know, I think this whole situation got me more riled up than I thought..."
Sonoko didn't look quite convinced, but she didn't press the matter any further. There were still no sounds of someone getting in their room. "Well, I guess we'll have to enter then." Sonoko proceeded to slowly open the door. "Shinichi-kun? Ran? Sera-san and I are coming in now..." When the two girls entered the room they paled.
"They're not here?!"
"What happened in this room?!"
Hearing the girls exclaim that, Kansuke and Morofushi immediately got up from the dining table and ran over to the room. "Don't tell me..."
Sera, Morofushi and Kansuke went into crime scene investigation mode immediately.
Observation: The four-paneled window was open, one panel smashed in, the shattered pieces of glass were on the inside. Muddy shoe prints were all over the floor.
Conclusion: The window was smashed from the outside, the one who did it opened the window lock afterwards and barged in that way. The shoe prints look like they are from boots.
Observation: The mattress had one deep, but narrow hole in it, the blanket was on the middle of the floor, multiple slits in it.
Conclusion: The person who smashed the window carried a long knife and used it to stab the mattress and slice up the blanket.
Observation: No blood, no bodies.
Observation: No Shinichi, no Ran; no person who broke in either.
Conclusion: Bad. Very bad.
"W-what the hell..." Sera stuttered.
"Looks like we are too late." Morofushi somberly said.
"Komei! Take Yui and go around the mansion. See if there are any traces on the outside!" Kansuke ordered. Morofushi nodded and went out of the room.
Sonoko looked terrified. "S-Sera-san, what happened in here...?"
Sera looked more calm, but her expression was grim. It looked like she used her professionality to protect herself from the fear of her friends being in danger. "I don't know...well, I mean, I have an idea, but it's just a guess. From what we see, someone broke in from the outside through the window, there was a fight and now we're here. And Ran-chan and Kudo are not..."
"Sounds about right..." Kansuke said, who already stepped closer to the window. "Hm...there appears to be a piece of cloth stuck here on the glass remains of the window. Looks like it is from...a pyjama I'd guess."
"What?!" Sera also came closer now and reached the same conclusion as she saw the piece of cloth. "If that's here at the broken window...does that mean..."
"Yeah..." Kansuke nodded.
Outside, flashlights came closer to window. Yui and Morofushi had come around the mansion and were now lighting the area outside the window.
"Hm, looks like..." Morofushi started. "There are shoe prints of boots, the same as inside, coming towards the window and leading away from it, back into the woods. And there are also barefoot prints out here...only from one person and only going into the woods as well."
Yui paled. "Don't tell me...that Shinichi-kun and Ran-chan..."
Morofushi nodded. "Yeah...they are out there...chased by that mad woman..."
Whew, a lot of explanations in this one. I'm quite aware that there are quite a few overlaps between the two explantory talks, but I thought it was kind of necessary. Researching for this adaption of the Red Woman case, made me realize that I never quite got the whole story in the manga, partially, because the final revealation about who is roaming the forest and what exactly happened is kind of rushed in the last file for that case, like only two pages. So, here we have a more extensive explanation. Thankfully with people like Sonoko in the story, I have characters who need an explanation as badly as we readers maybe do, so I hope all that explanation didn't appear as too hamfisted or too tacked on. By the way, in my old plan for this fic, this chapter was supposed to be the epilogue already, but plans change I guess.
Anyway, yeah, Ran and Shinichi are absent from this chapter. Alright, who of you noticed during reading that they were missing before Kansuke pointed it out? Hopefully, I managed to get a moment of sudden realization out of you. If not, I hope you still got something out of this chapter, because otherwise it may seem a bit dry.
Chapter 12: The Missing Lovers in the Thunderstorm
Blood seeped from Shinichi's leg. His pyjama pants showed a narrow slit on his right leg, where he now had a large cut from a kitchen knife. Shinichi leaned against a tree; standing and walking hurt, a lot. He was able to do both, but not without pain, which also meant that he wouldn't be able to run as fast as possible. Pretty unfortunate in a situation, where he had to run from a crazy, murderous woman. Shinichi tried to get his breathing under control, all the running so far had been pretty exhausting.
Ran wasn't doing much better, but atleast she wasn't injured. "I think we lost her for now." She said, peeking around some trees.
Shinichi started to tear up his pyjama at the place where the Woman in Red had struck him with her knife. "Hey, Ran, give me a hand here." Shinichi said, waving her over. She looked at what he was doing and immediately understood. Ran kneeled in front of him and ripped off the part of the pant leg he was working on, using the cloth as a make-shift bandage to stop the bleeding for now.
"How bad is it? Can you walk?" Ran asked, while treating his wound as best as she could under the circumstances.
"Yeah, I think I can walk, but it hurts. I'm afraid I'll limp quite a bit soon enough. If...if we have to make another high-tail escape, I don't think I can keep up the speed to get away from her again..." He said through his gritted teeth.
"..." Ran didn't say anything, but Shinichi noticed that his words affected her. She did one more wrap around before she tied the cloth, which was already soaked with blood, seemingly stopping the bleeding. "There, that should last for a while." She said.
Shinichi winced and stroked over his leg, attempting to subdue some of the pain. "Good. Now, what are going to do? Try to make our way back, evading that woman? Or hold out?"
Ran stood up. "No, we cannot hold out, we gotta keep moving."
"As I said, I don't think I can keep up-..."
"I'll carry you!" Ran said, grabbing his shoulders.
Shinichi couldn't help but to blush. "W-what, I don't thin-..."
"Shinichi, this is no time to be embarassed, with your leg, we don't have a choi-..."
"Hey, hey, wait a minute, I'm not embarassed, that's not it! I just mean, that...carrying me will slow you down. I know, you're a karate champion and your physical strength is beyond impressive, but...you have a better chance without me slowing you down, one way or another..."
"What are you saying? Do you...do you want me to just leave you behind? Or that we split up, so you can draw her attention to you and give me a headstart...?"
"Well, I'm already injured...so you have the better chances of the two of us..."
"Stop it! I won't do any of that!"
"Forget it! I told you: I'm going to carry you, even if it is the last thing I'll do."
"...Shinichi, if I was injured and would suggest you that, would you leave me behind?"
"No! I couldn't do that..."
"Then what makes you think I could...?! Listen, I get why you're saying that, because if our roles were indeed switched, I'd probably make the same suggestion. You know what you would feel, if I suggested that; well, that's the feeling I have right now. You carried me into this forest to protect me and now I'm gonna carry you out of it for the exact same reason, alright?"
"...Yeah...I get it." Shinichi sighed. "I didn't think waking up beside you would end so poorly, atleast without your father around..."
His gallows humor managed to get a small giggle out of Ran, the first time she had lighted up since they were running through this cursed forest. "Well, it doesn't always have to be..." And now even a blush of her own was visible. "Anyway, should we get going?"
Shinichi responded by wrapping one arm around her shoulder. "No, I think we should rest for a little while longer and catch our breath." With that, he sat down and gently pulled Ran with him, who also wrapped an arm around him. They sat in the rain, in a dark forest, exhausted, injured and on the run from a crazy woman with a large knife; however, in this one moment of closeness, it almost seemed okay. Just almost, but almost was closest they were to feeling okay ever since they left the mansion.
Shinichi closed his eyes for a second and remembered the situation earlier, when he had woken up in that bed with Ran.
It was a mix of thunder and an ominous feeling that woke Shinichi up. He looked around the dark room; it took his eyes a moment to adjust, but then he recognized the room of the holiday mansion they involutarily stayed in. Shinichi tried to rub his eyes, but noticed that it wasn't easy to move his arms. Additionally, something warm rested on his chest and his shoulder. One closer look and he realized, that Ran was lying were close to him. She had wrapped around both of her arms around his upper body and rested her head on his shoulder. Now, Shinichi had noticed that he also had one arm around Ran and rested his left hand her shoulder.
'L-looks like we unconsciously got much closer...and to think we were hesitating to even sleep in the same bed...damn subconscious, so much bolder than our active thoughts...' Shinichi thought. 'Well, I guess it's fine. Besides, I think Ran's grip around me is so tight, I couldn't free myself from it without waking her and that's saying a lot considering that Ran is a very heavy sleeper. Atleast this time, we don't have to fear a crazy axe murderer breaking into our room...'
Suddenly, one the panels of the window in their room was smashed in. Shinichi was now fully awake, staring over to the broken panel; he could vaguely see a hand reaching through the damaged panel, unlocking the window from the inside.
'The Woman in Red!' Shinichi thought. 'Then my concerns from earlier were right after all...! There was still somebody else in the forest...oh no, Ran...'
"Ran! Hey, Ran, wake up! Ran! RAN!" He shook her and raised his voice, but it was no use. Ran was still sound asleep. And this time, he didn't have his bow-tie with him to wake her up. Meanwhile, the hand had unlocked the window. Said window was now thrown open from the outside and a female figure with a large kitchen knife climbed into their room. Shinichi stared at the mad woman, who stood motionless in their room for a second, basking in the light of another thunderstrike, before she dashed towards their bed.
"DIE!" She had already raised her knife. Shinichi reacted quickly, pulling Ran's legs away from the edge of the bed. The Woman in Red couldn't stop the knife anymore and stabbed the mattress. She tugged the knife a few times, but she had difficulties getting it out of the mattress again. Shinichi saw that and kicked the woman as hard on the chest as he could, making her stumble back into the middle of the room, wincing from the pain of his kick. Unfortunately, her grip on the knife had been strong enough to pull the knife out of the mattress, instead of seperating her from it, like Shinichi had hoped it would.
'Damn it, Ran is still not waking up, gotta buy more time!' Shinichi grabbed their blanket and threw it over the woman. Disorientated, she started to flail around her arms, wildly swinging her knife in all directions, slicing up the blanket. "RAN! COME ON, WAKE UP!"
It still didn't have any effect on the girl. 'Damn it, with her clinging to me like that, I can't really fight that woman...' Suddenly, Shinichi had an idea. He started to get up and put his right arm under Ran's legs, while keeping his left arm wrapped around her shoulder. Thus, he was able to lift himself and her off the bed, carrying her bridal style. 'Atleast this is good practice for later on...'
The woman was still blindly swinging her knife around; the way she stood in the room, she blocked the door. 'I can't risk going past her like this...only one other way I guess...' Shinichi looked over to the open window and decided to make a run for it. "HELP! ANYBODY! THE WOMAN IN RED IS HERE!" He screamed, hoping that someone in the mansion would hear it. Meanwhile, the Woman had almost freed herself from the blanket, leaving Shinichi no time to wait for any help to arrive. He managed to climb out the window even while carrying Ran, being very careful that neither of them hit their head on the frame. Landing with his feet in the mud outside of the window, the two of them were quickly soaked from the rain. Shinichi could already her the quick footsteps of the Woman in their room, coming towards the window.
'Argh, going around the mansion won't do any good, she's too close and with her boots, she also has the better footing and is faster...I have to lose her somehow...only one way I guess...' Shinichi thought, before making a dash into the forest. Running as fast he could with Ran in his arms, Shinichi didn't even look back to see how close she was. He only wanted to put distance between the two of them and that crazy woman.
After a while, Shinichi leaned against a tree and looked around. He didn't see or hear the woman anymore, although his perception was greatly affected by the weather condition. It was still raining like it was the apocalypse, but atleast the thunderstorm seemed to have mostly passed on. Mostly was the important word, as at this moment, another thunderstrike illuminated the area. Shinichi felt some stirring in his arms.
"...S-Shinichi...?" Ran mumbled, opening her eyes slowly. "Shinichi!" Upon realizing that she was in his arms, in the rainy forest no less, she threw her eyes wide open. "What's going on?!"
"Calm down, let me just put you down and I'll explain." He said. Ran nodded and Shinichi did as he said, explaining to Ran what happened in their room and how they got here.
Shinichi looked around a few trees, trying to spot whether or not the woman was approaching. "What now? Can we fight her?" He asked.
Ran thought for a bit, but ultimately shook her head. "No, I don't think so. The Woman in Red is wearing a rain coat and boots, while we're just in pyjamas and bare foot. We're soaked in unfavourable clothing; we're freezing, additionally limiting our movements and we have worse footing than her in these muddy grounds. Plus, she has a weapon. I think I could take her easily, but not under these circumstances, it's too risky, even for the two of us."
"Damn, I feared as much. Only reason why I could even escape was due to losing her in the forest. With her boots, she could eventually catch us on a plain field..."
"So, what do we do? Do you know where we have to go to get to the mansion?"
"I think I have a general idea of the direction, but I'm not certain. I just wanted to get away from her, I didn't really pay too much attention to directions unfortunately..."
"That's too bad...I guess, we'll just have to rely on our luck and try to make our way back, right?"
"I guess. Alright, let's go." Shinichi said and showed Ran the direction. They didn't run, saving their breath. They tried to spot the woman through the trees and the rain. As Ran said, they were cold and soaked, making their movements even more exhausting in addition to the muddy ground.
After a while of walking, Shinichi jolted around. "What is it?" Ran asked.
Shinichi looked around. "I think I just heard some-...BEHIND YOU!"
Ran sharply turned and spotted the Woman in Red dashing towards her, knife raised, but thanks to Shinichi's warning, Ran managed to dodge it. The Woman managed to get into a proper stance faster, making her able to dash away again, out of Shinichi and Ran's line of sight.
"Where is she?!"
"I lost her!"
"Shinichi! Behind you!"
Unlike Ran, Shinichi wasn't able to get out of her reach completely. The knife easily sliced through his pants, injuring his leg. "Argh...!"
"Stay away from him!" Ran screamed and used one of her kicks on the Woman in Red. She managed to get a hit, but the woman just stumbled back and didn't fall. Because of her boots, she was able to get into a secure stand before Ran and mangaged to dash away again. Shinichi held his injured leg.
"Ran, we have to get away from here!"
Ran nodded. After actually landing a hit on her enemy, gave them a chance to lose her again. They ran as fast as they could and as Shinichi injured leg allowed them. After they were sure that they lost her again, they stopped to catch their breath.
Blood seeped from Shinichi's leg...
After Ran felt fit enough to continue running with Shinichi on her back, they went on the move again. Although he earlier said that he wasn't embarassed by getting a piggyback ride by Ran, he couldn't help but to blush while she carried him. Then again, her waking up while he carried her bridal style was probably equally as embarassing for her, so turnabout is fair play, Shinichi figured. Eventually.
Without having to look out where he was going, Shinichi could focus on doing the spotting for Ran. After all, she kicked the Woman in Red once, but with how quick that crazy was able to escape, it seemed likely that would strike again. If she managed to find Shinichi and Ran that is. The rain was still pouring, but the thunder seemed distant now and lightnings only rarely illuminated the area anymore.
"Can you keep going or should we rest for a while? I don't see her at the moment." Shinichi asked.
"No, it's fine, we can keep going." Ran answered.
One of the rare lightnings flared up. "RAN, LEFT SIDE!" Shinichi screamed, as he saw the Woman in Red approaching. "Brace yourself, I'm gonna jump off." He said and did exactly that. Ran immediately assumed a defensive stance, remarkably fast Shinichi noted. The Woman swung her knife at Ran, but this time Ran was ready for it; she was a karate champion after all, without being caught off guard she should have no problem with even an armed foe.
The Woman in Red dashed towards Ran, left arm with knife raised high and attempted to stab Ran, but Ran was able to block her strike in midair with her right arm. The Woman stared at Ran in disbelief, obviously not expecting her enemy to a martial arts expert. Ran quickly used her free hand, to hit the Woman in the face, making her tumble back, covering her face in one hand, while uncoordinately swinging her knife with the other. "ARGHH!"
It was difficult to see, but Shinichi was sure that the Woman had started to bleed from her nose; not too surprising considering that Ran decked her quite hard. Ran held her distance to the Woman, whose swing were too unpredictable to engage safely. The Woman turned around and fleed.
"After her!" Ran ordered. "Now's our best chance!"
Shinichi nodded and they both dashed forward to follow her. Ran was faster than him of course, but Shinichi managed to keep up decently considering his injury.
"Where is she?" Shinichi asked.
"I don't see her..." Ran responded.
"Wait, what was that?" Ran asked.
"I don't know...but it sounded like..." Shinichi said.
"I think it came from over there!" Shinichi exclaimed, heading towards the direction of the sound. Ran followed him. The rain had stopped by now. It was still night, but now a part of the clouds had parted, allowing the moon to shine onto the forest. A lucky break for Shinichi and Ran, because it allowed them to see clearly what was in front of them: a giant swamp, presumably the same one Tamami's friend Satoko died in.
And near the waterside, the Woman in Red was struggling in the swamp, screaming for help. Ran's hit on her face, must've deorientated her enough, that she didn't notice she was running into the swamp until it was too late.
"Help it!" The Woman screamed.
"Ran, get a long branch from one of the trees, we need something to pull her out!" Shinichi ordered. Ran nodded and went on to do as he said. Shinichi turned back to the woman. "Calm down, it's quicksand! The more you struggle, the faster you will sink in!"
His words had no effect, the Woman was still panicking and struggling. "Help...help me!" She screamed.
"We're gonna help you, just calm down! You'll only make it worse."
The Woman reached out to Shinichi with her arm, trying to inch towards him, which only made her situation worse. "Help me!"
Shinichi couldn't help but to roll his eyes. "Oh, for crying out loud..."
In that moment, Ran returned with a large branch, that looked to be long and sturdy enough to be used to pull the Woman out. Shinichi and Ran carefully approached the edge the swamp and held the branch forward, so that the Woman would be able to reach it.
"You need to grab this branch and we'll pull you out." Shinichi tried to explain.
The Woman whimpered and grabbed the branch with her right hand, while she still clung to her knife with her left hand. With only one hand on the branch, Shinichi and Ran wouldn't be able to pull her out.
"You have to throw away your knife and hold on to the branch with of your hands or we won't be able to save you!"
His words didn't reach her. Shinichi was getting annoyed again; sure, she was fearing for her life, but that was no reason for her to behave like an idiot!"
"TOSS YOUR KNIFE OR YOU WILL DIE, DAMN IT!" Shinichi screamed, making the Woman and even Ran wince. But it had the wished effect: the Woman stared at her knife for a second, before throwing it into the swamp and using her other hand to grab to the branch as well. With that, Shinichi and Ran were able to pull her out of danger. Ran utilized this moment of weakness and grabbed both of the Woman's hands and kept them on her back. Shinichi pulled out the waistbelt from the Woman's raincoat, using it to tie her hands up. After that, they pulled her up and linked arms with her; Shinichi on the right and Ran on the left side. The Woman in Red was unable to resist the two teens, who had her locked in between them.
"Alright, let's get back to the mansion." Shinichi said. The two teenagers set themselves in motion; in her position, the Woman had no choice but to walk with them. Not that it mattered, since Ran and Shinichi could've just dragged her along.
The Woman started to stuggle a bit, but her actions remained pointless. She was physically weaker than Shinichi, not even to speak of Ran. Without her knife and the surprise effect, she wasn't very dangerous.
"So, are you the famous Woman in Red?" Shinichi asked.
The Woman looked at him with disgust. "No, that bitch is still out there..."
"She's still out there! I saw her today...she was listening to you two and another pair of teens...she's still out there..." Shinichi chuckled, drawing the Woman's ire. "What's so funny?"
"Well, you see, that wasn't the Woman in Red. That was merely a copycat..." Shinichi went on to explain the woman in their arms, what they knew about the murder case 15 years ago, about Satoko and that the Woman in Red is supposed to be dead since that day already.
The woman in their arms had tears in her eyes. "But...she's dead...? But...the police...they said she was still out there..."
Shinichi looked into the distance. "It looks like they were mistaken..."
"But...but...then...I wasted my time out here...seeking revenge...but there was never someone to get my revenge from...instead...I saw a girl...who was innocent...die...all for nothing...?" The woman in their arms slumped, forfeiting any of the slim physical resistance she offered just a second ago. Her feet were still walking along, but it was just an automatism, almost mechanically. Tears ran down her face. "Takeno-san..." She mumbled.
Shinichi stayed quiet. From hearing her story, he deduced that she must have been the lover of the businessman that was killed by the real Woman in Red 15 years ago. And that she was the one who drove Satoko into the swamp; admittedly, that wasn't much of a deduction, since she basically confessed that right now. However, Shinichi kept all his thoughts to him. The woman in his arms was already broken, he didn't need to push her any further. The upcoming police procedures she would have to go through would put enough pressure on her, he didn't want to add to that at the moment.
"Shinichi! Over there!" Ran exclaimed and pointed to their left. And sure enough, there was the mansion. The door was still bright red, just when they arrived here.
Shinichi and Ran smiled and moved over to the building, dragging the woman with them. The rain had long stopped and the sun began shyly with driving the night away. The two teens were soaked, freezing, injured and exhausted, but now it was finally over. The case was solved, the woman caught and the two of them survived. Bloody, but unbowed.
Chapter 13: The Day After
Arriving at the mansion, Shinichi and Ran were greeted by an agitated Sonoko, who furiously hugged Ran under tears, having feared that something might've happened to her best friend. In her joy, Sonoko even gave Shinichi a hug. He might be an annoying mystery nut in her eyes, but he was still a friend of hers. They handed the lover of the murdered businessman over to Inspector Morofushi and Inspector Yamato, whose appearances in the mansion surprised Shinichi and Ran.
Considering the state Ran and Shinichi were in, they both decided to take a shower - separately, of course - and put on some fresh clothes, before telling the police force what happened in the forest.
Not too much later, Shinichi and Ran waited in the dining room together with Sera, Sonoko and Yui; tired, but at least out of their soaked pyjamas. Morofushi and Kansuke were still busy organizing the arrest and transport of Sumika and the businessman's lover. During their wait, Ran got the first aid kit of the mansion and treated Shinichi's wounded leg as best as she could.
"Hmhm, this sure brings back memories. The last time I had to treat your wounds was before we even attended middle school, right?" Ran said, while wrapping a real bandage around his leg.
"Yeah, I think so. But to my credit, this time it wasn't really my fault." Shinichi responded.
"Hm, true enough." Ran finished with the bandage. "I'm not an expert, but I don't think this will even leave a scar. Lucky you, avoided having another scar in a pretty visible spot..."
"I guess..." Shinichi mumbled and turned his attention to the approaching inspectors. The next thirty minutes were spend explaining to them how the woman broke into their room, chased them through the woods and how they rescued her from the swamp. Thankfully, Inspector Yamato's stern gaze prevented Sonoko from interjecting too much to get 'juicy details'. For now, at least.
In turn, Morofushi and Yamato shared the details of the events in the last 15 years, which matched with the deductions Shinichi made after hearing what the woman that chased them - Shinobu Kagawa as Shinichi and Ran learned now - said to them after they captured her.
"Well, I guess that wraps it up then." Kansuke said. "I don't think your statements will be too relevant in the following juristic procedures, but your cooperation is still appreciated."
With that, there was no reason for them to stay in the mansion anymore. Preparing to travel back to Tokyo, Sera, Sonoko, Shinichi and Ran decided against driving along with the Nagano police members and instead decided to travel via the same train they came here. While packing their stuff, Shinichi observed something weird: while walking on the corridor, he spotted Sera lying down in the kitchen and put her arm under a cupboard. He pressed himself against the corridor wall and waited until Sera left the kitchen through he other door. Out of curiosity, Shinichi decided to check out why she did that. And sure enough, he found something interesting.
Sera's smartphone to be precise. She had placed it under the cupboard. 'Weird, why would she do that? We're about to leave this place...' Shinichi thought. Looking around his shoulders to see if anyone was near, he grabbed the phone from under the cupboard and examined it. It was definitely Sera's Ony Xperikan branded smartphone.
It was still turned on; checking the phone of someone Shinichi would call his friend seemed a bit immoral to him, but then again, Sera kept secrets from him about their past and apparently had knowledge about him being Conan, so checking out her phone could reveal some important information.
One tap activated the screen again, but to Shinichi's surprise, it showed a photo. Said photo displayed Sera with a white-blondish haired child, who was resting in a bed. Sera smiled into the camera, while the child had a less approving expression on her face. 'Her eyes...those are definitely the same eyes as Sera's...' Shinichi thought. 'This picture immediately opened, which means that she left her phone here with the picture already open, but...why? Did she want somebody to find it...?' Shinichi took a picture of the screen with his own phone. 'Anyway, let's look for some other stuff.'
Next was Sera's contact list: on there, Shinichi found the numbers of Conan, Ran, Sonoko, various Teitan High students, her current hotel phone and...Aniki. That's what she called her brother on the phone earlier. 'Damn it, why can't she call her brother by anything that gives away his real name...anyway, it's not that important, but maybe I should write down his number and do some research later...'
Shinichi wrote down the number of Sera's brother on the notepad of his phone. Next, he went through Sera's texts. He didn't even bother to read her conversations with classmates and went straight to the ones with she had with her brother. Unfortunately, nothing gave away who he was here either. She just always called him 'Aniki'. They didn't discuss any personal stuff either, just about deductions and cases. Like Shinichi thought, Sera often asked her brother about her solutions for cases, some of the cases he recognized, as he worked on them with her as Conan. Then, one particular conversation sparked his interest.
Masumi: "It seems like he's also arrived at the truth...but whether or not our deductions are the same - lately, I've been losing confidence in that regard..."
Aniki: "Who is he? I'd like an explanation!"
Masumi: "This is him! Are you surprised? -Masumi" (attached to the text was a photo of Conan)
Aniki: "If it's him, there's no problem."
Shinichi raised an eyebrow. 'Wait...her brother knows me as Conan? Good enough to know that the little boy is smart enough to solve a case? I must've met him during another case then...otherwise, it would be strange...' Shinichi looked at the photo again. It showed Conan, with a cheery expression, hands behind his head, talking to someone outside the picture and wearing a leopard print shirt. 'Oh, if I recall correctly, that was during the case at the bowling alley...so, I must've met her brother before that...who could it be...that number doesn't seem familiar, though I should check the numbers I have in Conan's phone just to be sure...I suppose I could just call the number, but that'll have to wait until I get back to Tokyo I guess...'
As if she heard his thoughts, Ran called out to him. "Shinichi? Where are you, we want to leave!"
"Yeah, yeah, coming!" He yelled back; hastily opening the photo again and putting Sera's phone into his pocket, he went to fetch his backpack and joined the girls waiting outside. "Sorry."
"Geez, I thought you were finished with packing..." Ran said.
Shinichi smiled apologetically. "Yeah, me too, haha."
Yui was the only one standing in front of the mansion with the teenagers, everyone else was already in the police cars. "I guess that's it then. I'm surprised you two high school detectives were able to deduce this case so well, even with only limited information."
"Hehe, you shouldn't underestimate us!" Sera said with a broad grin. Shinichi also mustered a smile.
"I guess..." Yui said.
"HEY! UEHARA! We haven't got all day here!" Kansuke yelled from one car.
"Coming!" Yui yelled back. "Alright, we're going now. Ran-chan..." Yui winked at Ran. "...I'll give you a gave call this evening, okay?"
Ran blushed a little bit and nodded. "Sure..."
Yui gave her another smile and looked over to Shinichi for a brief second, before she turned around and went to the car Kansuke was in. 'Not very hard to guess what they are going to talk about...'
As the police cars drove off, Sonoko put her hands behind her head and sighed. "Ah, to think this trip would end so terribly after it began so beautifully...although, Ran, I think it wasn't entirely horrible for you, was it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Ran said, looking away from her friend.
"Ahh, that reminds me..." Sera said, starting to search through her pockets. "...I need to text my brother and tell him about this whole thing. I bet he's desperately waiting for my report already! Hm...now where did I put my phone..."
Shinichi observed her little fake search. 'I see, so this was her plan. No way that was accidental, she clearly left her phone under the cupboard on purpose, there is no doubt about that. Let's see what the next step of her ploy is...'
"Huh, that's strange...I can't find my phone. I must've dropped it somewhere..." Sera concluded.
"No way! Good you noticed before we left this place!" Sonoko exclaimed.
"Indeed. Hey, Kudo, could you call my phone so we can locate it?" Sera asked, an apologetic smile on her face, to make her look really sorry for bothering him with her request.
'I see, I'm supposed to make the mistake of agreeing, even though I don't have her number...clever, that might've worked hadn't I seen her hide the phone...' Shinichi thought.
"No." Shinichi said.
"No?" Sera tilted her head.
"I can't do that, because I don't have your number." Shinichi said, giving her a nuanced smile, that Sonoko and Ran would see as polite, but she knew that this meant he had seen through her plan.
Sera didn't show any reaction and rubbed the back of her head with one hand. "Oh, yeah right, I forgot. Then maybe Ran-chan, could you-..."
"I don't think that will be necessary." Shinichi interrupted her, making the three girls look at him. He now reached into his own pocket. "You see...I found this earlier in the mansion..." Shinichi took out her phone and handed it over to Sera. "That's yours, isn't it? I think I saw you texting with it on the train ride here."
"Ah...yes, that's mine...thank you..." Sera stuttered and checked her phone. Shinichi paid close attention to her reaction upon activating the phone and seeing that it was in the same state as it was when she left it under the cupboard. Sera frowned and looked a bit frustrated.
This is a perfect opportunity for Shinichi to divert the attention. "Now that we've cleared that up, we should head for the train, shouldn't we? You can text your brother from the train or while we're walking if you have to."
"I suppose we should..." Sera said. She pouted a little bit, surely because things hadn't gone her way. It looked almost cute.
"Well, let's get going!" Sonoko announced and they all went off towards the train station.
On their way through the forest, Sonoko and Ran were leading the way, talking about whether or not the storm would cause delays in the train schedules. Sera and Shinichi were trailing behind them, but they didn't talk; Shinichi was still in thoughts and Sera was busy with her phone, probably telling her brother about the case like she wanted. That part wasn't made up.
'Let's see...it seems like Sera really wanted me to find the phone...whether or not with me calling or Ran calling...hm, someone calls her phone, I find it, it decline the call, which would leave the phone active for a bit...since that photo was already opened, it would show that again...so my deduction was right, Sera wanted someone to see this picture...she wanted me to see it. But why?' Shinichi took out and looked at the photo on his phone, carefully putting distance between him and Sera so she wouldn't see what's on his display. 'What about this photo...? That child looks similar to Sera...are they related? She doesn't look like anyone I have encountered before and unlike with Sera, I also don't have the feeling that I have this child before...' Shinichi closed the photo and wrote a text. He wasn't able to figure out anything about that photo right now, so he decided he would take a closer look once he had more privacy. Instead, he organized his departure.
"Hey, Professor, could you come pick me up with the beetle at the Nagano Mountains Train station? -SK"
He didn't have to wait long for answer.
"Sure. Is it very urgent? Do you have size related problems?"
Shinichi had to suppress a small chuckle. Reading Agasa paraphrase the Conan situation in such a way had something funny about, but then he reminded himself that it was a serious topic: for all Agasa knew, he could in a very dangerous situation. And paraphrasing was also good, you never knew who could read that message on the other side.
"No, everything is fine, you don't need to rush up here. Just make your way here like normal and drive me back to Tokyo."
The professor texted back a small confirmation, so Shinichi put away his phone. Sera was still busy with her's and Sonoko and Ran were still talking about something. If Shinichi had to guess, Sonoko was already putting the shakes on Ran in regards to what happened between her and her boyfriend by own admission, like Sonoko had phrased it earlier. He hoped could hold out until he parted ways with the girls, because he was sure that he would already get to hear too much of Sonoko's gossip about him as Conan in the following days, so he would like to avoid a personal interrogation/teasing session.
'I'll have to look for an opportunity to say goodbye to Ran without the other two...but...I don't really want to say goodbye again...but I guess there is no other choice...it's too dangerous to spend more time with her in Tokyo...it's too bad, who knows when we'll have another chance...another...wait a minute...' Suddenly, Shinichi felt bothered by that word 'another'. It was the same feeling he usually had, when he overlooked something on a case.
'Another, another...why does that word bother me all of...a...sudden...Ahh!' He thought, when he remembered Ran's words earlier.
"Lucky you, avoided having another scar in a pretty visible spot..."
'She said another scar...but that means...' Shinichi inwardly moved his hand over the scar he had on the stomach from the cave incident. 'Don't tell me...she saw it when she got her revenge for the towel drop...but then...that means...she knows?!' Shinichi eyes widened and he paled. He looked over to Ran who was still chatting with Sonoko. 'Yeah, she's not dumb, if she saw the scar on me, she definitely deduced the truth...damn it! I have to sort this out somehow before we part ways again...I can't just leave this standing in the room...'
For the rest of the way to the train station, Shinichi searched for a way somehow to talk to Ran about this, but he couldn't come up with a plan. Before he knew, their wait was over and the train arrived at the station. Shinichi stood there, almost frozen, not sure what to do. Sera and Sonoko entered the train, Ran following them until she noticed that Shinichi wasn't moving.
"Shinichi? Are you coming?" Ran asked.
"Huh?" He looked up from the ground and stared at Ran. "Ah...no, I won't come with you...I gotta..."
"You've gotta go back to your case, right?"
"Ran...!" Shinichi dashed forward and grabbed her folded hands with both of his hands and held them up.
'Damn it, say something...Ran told you yesterday that she liked your words in London and those weren't pre-planned either...just speak your mind, idiot!' Shinichi mind yelled.
"Ran...about what you said when you treated my leg, I want-..."
"Shinichi, we've promised each other something, right?" Ran asked, suddenly changing the topic.
"Erm...yes. Yes, we did." Shinichi answered a bit confused.
"You promised me that you would return someday and I promised you that I would wait for you..."
"Yes...even if I die..." Shinichi added, his chest hurting a bit thinking back to that evening at the restaurant.
"Can you me promise me something else?"
"Promise me...when that case that keeps you away is over...promise that you will tell me everything about it. That you tell me the truth about..." Ran freed one of her hands from his grasp and put it right above the scar. "...everything." She looked back up to his eyes and offered him a warm smile.
Shinichi wasn't sure what to do at first, but then he couldn't help to smile back. "I promise...but only if you promise me something too."
"And what would that be?"
"When I tell you...everything, the whole truth...that you'll hear me out, that you'll listen to everything I have to say..."
"It's a promise?"
"It's a promise." Ran giggled a little bit. "I somehow feel like a pinky swear would be appropriate right now...but that's just childish..."
Now Shinichi giggled as well. "Yeah, that's not really for us high school students anymore...but I know what would be..."
"Oh, really...is that so...?" Ran asked and leaned forward into his direction.
"Maybe...let's find out..." Shinichi leaned forward as well and they sealed their second promises with their second kiss.
"Yeah...that's more for us..."
They both turned around when they heard knocking and some muffled cheers. It was Sonoko from inside the train, who had watched everything from her window seat. Realizing this, Shinichi and Ran blushed even more.
"I've gotta go before the train leaves without me..." Ran said.
"I'll call you soon, alright?"
"Yeah, that sounds good..."
"Alright...see you, Shinichi..." Ran said and turned around to enter the train.
"Yeah...see you, Ran."
With that, Ran entered the train, joining her two classmates. Only one moment later, the train doors closed and the station announcer proclaimed the departure of the train. Shinichi waved his classmates goodbye, as the station left the station, leaving Shinichi alone in the station. He looked to his phone. Agasa would arrive in about ten minutes, so he propped himself down on a bench and looked at the sky.
So much happened since the three girls stumbled upon him yesterday. Confessions, exposed upper bodies, kisses, hurt and promises. But, after all this, Shinichi felt that he had also gained something else in this time. Hope.
Hope, that all this charade and danger would one day finally end. And the hope that, when it finally does end, everything can be okay. And that their future will be bright.
- The END -